The Unintended Consequences of Not Having an Estate Plan

Nobody likes to think about death, but failing to plan for it can cause unintended consequences for loved ones.

Prompted by the death of Prince, a client recently came to see me. He had read in the news that heirs to Prince’s estate could include adopted siblings. My client isn’t close to his adopted siblings and wanted to make sure they do not receive anything in the event of his death. Similarly, another client contacted me in the midst of a divorce wanting to ensure that her soon-to-be ex-spouse would not receive part of her estate if she died.

In California, if you do not decide who manages your assets or where they are going, the law will decide for you. You may think that is alright, but even the most common situations can become complicated. Do not assume your spouse gets everything. If you are married, the character of the property (separate or community) determines whether your spouse is the sole beneficiary. If you are separated but do not have formal paperwork filed yet, a soon-to-be ex can be the unintended heir of your estate if you do not put your wishes in writing. The best way to ensure that your assets go to the right people is to create an estate plan that clearly contains your wishes.

Planning for your death is about more than just making sure your property goes where you want it to. As we’ve already discussed, that is certainly a big component of estate planning, but another, perhaps more important factor, is minimizing the chance for conflict between loved ones after your death. No one wants to leave a mess behind that creates unnecessary emotional turmoil and an estate plan is the best way to prevent that.

So, as unpleasant as it may seem, stop putting this off and make your way to your lawyer. Your family will be grateful.

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