Divorce and remarriage is common in today's society, making families cast a wider net with more variables and distant relatives than ever before. Second and third marriages blur the lines and the traditional probate system isn't equipped to handle it equitably.
As the American family has changed, California probate remains focused on marital relation and bloodlines. This means if you have specific desires for your assets when you're gone, you need to make those plans yourself. Simply voicing a desire isn't enough; get it in writing through the proper legal means so your family won't be damaged by the process.
Half the population doesn't have a will
Nearly 55% of Americans die without an estate plan. When that happens, the estate is turned over to probate court to determine distribution. If married, that means it goes to a surviving spouse first, children second (if no surviving spouse), and other relations third. While some either don't mind letting the state handle their assets or feel that a verbal statement will suffice, the fact is that asset distribution is far more complicated than saying something aloud and sometimes things are more complicated than they first seemed.
A focus on fairness
A study has found that people are more concerned about fairness than wealth in their own legacies. When benefactors of a will receive gifts, it causes an inner exploration that often is more concerned about fairness and the continuing familial bond, as compared to a lump sum of money. In other words, fairness is viewed as a way to keep a family strong once you can't be there yourself to have that effect.
Estate plans matter
If you don't have a will, the state will distribute assets regardless of how your family was truly arranged. This means if you have an heirloom that you'd like you children to have, it may not actually reach them.
Probate court gifts inheritance to a surviving spouse first. There is no measurement for how long you have been married or how your spouse relates to your children. This means that if you remarried later in life, your spouse may not have a strong connection to your children. When you're gone, your assets go to your spouse. It's up to him or her to decide what happens next. If there is strife or distance between a stepparent and child, your heirloom might not go to your child.
On the other side of the equation, perhaps you divorced your first partner early in adulthood but remained or grew close later on, perhaps through co-parenting arrangements. Your ex-spouse is still a part of your family to you, albeit a distant one without a legal connection. Probate court will not acknowledge this relationship but a will would easily allow you to gift something to the co-parent of your child. Although divorced, many people continue to respect and connect with the parent's of their children.
Many people mistakenly believe that sharing your wishes with family is enough to share your wealth with them later on. Unfortunately, it's hard to prove direct intent after you've passed unless you've left a proper will. There are many simple and complex estate plans but, as families get more complex and diverse, it's ever more important to clearly and legally state your intentions. While everyone in your family may get along civilly today, there is no telling of the future. Sometimes the smallest straw can break the camel's back. A will or estate plan can keep the family together, feeling that everything is fair and conflict-free.