Every day in California and around the country, people die without a will. Some of these deaths are through accidents and therefore unexpected. Others involve older people who never got around to putting an estate plan in place because they didn't want to contemplate death or just didn't think that they had enough assets to worry about.
Many people don't think of themselves as having an "estate" that they will be leaving to others after their death. However, even if you own don't own a home, have a stock portfolio or have accumulated little in the way of valuables, you likely have at least one bank account. If you don't codify who will get the funds in your account upon your death, it could end up in probate, creating unnecessary costs and inconvenience for your loved ones.
The probate process varies from one person to the next; however, there are some basics you should become familiar with.
Did you know that Los Angeles County holds a monthly auction to sell unclaimed possessions of people who have died? These people either had no will (at least none that could be located) or had a will, but none of the heirs could be found or were alive. Further, no friends or family members claimed their belongings.
Increasingly, couples are choosing to postpone marriage until later in life or not marry at all. While cohabitating partners may feel married, in the eyes of the law, they aren't.
Probate might be an understandably important aspect of estate law, but it is not a necessarily fun process to go through. However, not every California estate will have to pass through probate, and the reasons why can vary. Residents who want to avoid having their estate probated can take certain preventive measures before their death.
The validity of a will is a popular point of contention during difficult probate battles. While most people in California likely do not anticipate their will being challenged, it can happen when a family member feels spurned or when someone might have a legitimate reason to be suspicious. However, simply because a will's validity can be challenged does not mean that the probate process related to it will be a breeze.
Family life is evolving; indeed, it appears to have been rapidly changing for quite some time. From divorced and remarried families -- also referred to as blended families -- to cohabitating couples, the face of California families is perhaps very different than what it was generations ago. So-called non-traditional families are more likely to end up in probate, where a person's estate is not entirely in clear hands.
Fear is an involuntary response for most people upon hearing the word "probate." Many misconceptions concerning the process continue to perpetuate throughout California, needlessly adding stress to the lives of people who are already grieving the losses of loved ones. In reality, the probate process can be a helpful and necessary aspect of the estate administration process.
Estate planning is as complicated as it is important. Some California residents may not realize that the best practice for effective estate planning requires the building of an integrated team of advisers that are appropriately skilled. It is often believed that property can only be transferred through the probate process after death while, in fact, there are several methods to achieve this. Transferring wealth through beneficiary designations is another mechanism, and it will be separate from probate proceedings.