If you’re the parent of one or more young adult children, you’ve probably wondered at how quickly time seems to pass. In fact, you might recall the moments you first brought your infants home from the hospital, their first days of school, when they learned to ride bikes, etc., as though these milestones occurred only yesterday. In reality, you know that two or more decades have passed, and you’re concerned about your loved ones’ futures, along with whether you have taken appropriate steps to provide for them when you’re gone.

Many California residents execute thorough estate plans to protect their assets and retain as much control as possible over their own finances and health care. Others shy away from the topic, which often results in stressful situations for their family members when the time comes to administer their estates. One thing is sure: Your estate will be administered. It’s merely a matter of who makes the decisions, you or a probate court.

If you don’t execute a final will and testament

There’s no law saying you must have a will. However, there are numerous stories regarding many people who have died without leaving formally written instructions, and the complications that often arise for their loved ones because they died intestate (without a will). The following may apply if you die without a will:

  • Your assets and property will be distributed according to intestacy laws.
  • If you own property outside California, the intestacy laws in the state your property is located determine its distribution.
  • A surviving spouse who is also the biological parent of your children will likely inherit your entire estate.
  • If your children are from a previous relationship, however, the court may divide shares between your spouse and your children.
  • If you are a parent but are not married to the person you live with, your children will likely inherit your estate; or, it may be divided between your children and your parents, if they are not yet deceased. The law does not consider an unmarried cohabitant as one of your possible heirs unless you have specified such intentions in a final will and testament.

After reviewing this list, you may decide it’s best to execute a solid estate plan rather than assume who your heirs will be. Aside from the fact that the court may choose someone other than you would have chosen yourself, the probate process itself is often lengthy and expensive, thus causing undue stress to your family in your absence. Support is available to help you create a customized plan that addresses your particular wishes and can help your family avoid exorbitant taxes and complex probate situations.

To seek answers to any questions you have regarding estate planning and California law, you can request a meeting with a probate and estate administration attorney.