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California legal issues when decedents die intestate

Beneficiaries do not have to be named in a will to receive assets from an estate. A life insurance policy is an example. The proceeds from the policy go to the assigned beneficiary, whether or not that person is also named in a Los Angeles will, trust or other estate planning document.

Heirs may be confused or suspicious of conflicting recipients of estate assets, especially when the beneficiary is not a spouse, child or some other immediate relative of the decedent. Asset distribution grows more complex and costly when issues are forced to probate, like an estate whose former owner died intestate - without drafting a will.

Estate administration is a legal reference to the handling of intestate assets which frequently must pass through probate to be resolved. Heirs of small California estates can avoid probate, even without a will, by signing a declaration that an estate is valued at less than $150,000.

The heir who submits the declaration must fit eligibility requirements, work in a time frame, provide required documents and realize responsibilities come with benefits. The declarer takes on the estate's debts, which are deducted from assets.

Since the guidance of a will is lost, a dispute could arise over which heir is qualified to submit the declaration. Potential heirs could be minor children who cannot sign legal documents.

Probate allows an adult to sign a child's declaration, but the purpose is to avoid court. An adult who does not wish to establish guardianship may petition the court under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act for the estate assets to be sequestered in a custodial account until the child is an adult.

The legal scrambling that takes place following an intestate death can be avoided by estate planning. Wills are basic documents that provide asset distribution instructions and the decedent's desires for the care of a non-adult child.

Source:, "How to guard teenager's inheritance?" Len Tillem and Rosie McNichol, Sep. 05, 2013

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