The legendary comedian George Carlin summed up estate planning best with his classic stand-up routine on “stuff”. Everyone has “stuff”, we love our “stuff”, and most of us are pretty particular with our “stuff” (we move it around, lock it up and hate to mix it with other people’s “stuff”). However, because that “stuff” belongs to you, it has meaning and importance.
During your lifetime, you will collect a lot of “stuff”; some of it valuable, some of it not; but at Elder Law Services of California, we believe everyone should take the time to protect their “stuff” with a well-thought-out estate plan. Most people would like to give their belonging and assets to loved ones and family members, and an estate plan, in the simplest terms, is a set of legal instructions for distributing those possessions after you pass away.
An estate plan can be simple or it can be quite complex, and the process of drafting up a document to meet your wishes will depend on the amount of stuff you have and the details on how it will be distributed (how will property be sold off, when will minors receive money or other possessions etc.). Estate plans must also meet various legal requirements to be deemed valid, and the plan must be written down, signed by the principal, and be witnessed by a third party.
How do you get an estate plan?
Once you are ready to begin the estate planning process, the first step is to visit with a licensed attorney and start transferring your assets and belongings into a will or trust (both documents will do, but a trust has distinct advantages over a will). Legally anyone can create their own documents, however, having an experienced attorney take care of the process will save you time and money down the road. Wills and trusts are complicated and any mistake or improper wording will only cause headaches and lead to the probate process.
The pressing question many people without an estate plan ask is, “what happens if you die without one?” Unfortunately, the answer is a lengthy court process that will take time and money to resolve any estate issues, and the biggest problem is that you will not have any say in who gets to keep your assets and other “stuff”. Here are a few examples of what might happen if a person passes away without an estate plan.
Example 1: relatives are in disagreement on how to distribute your assets. Without an estate plan, this can be a messy and expensive situation for your family. Many times the principal’s assets will be used to pay for the court process and costly legal/attorney fees will eat up the value of the “stuff” that you worked a lifetime to obtain.
Example 2: A unmarried person wants a significant other to receive a portion of their assets. If you are not married and want your significant to receive some of your assets, it would be wise to get an estate plan in place now. Under the state's law, your possession will only go to blood relatives.
Example 3: A married person with kids wants the spouse to receive all the assets: If you are married and have adult children, your spouse will not necessarily receive all those assets. Your children are legally entitled to receive their share of those assets, which means your spouse may not receive enough to live on.
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A person’s “stuff” also includes any minors under the age of 18, which makes having an estate plan one of the most important things a person can do to protect their family. Without one, the court will have to decide who should raise those children in the case that both parents pass away. What a scary thought. If you're responsible enough to have your own stuff, you need to be responsible for making sure what will happen to it after you're gone.
When you are ready to begin estate planning and take control on how your assets will be distributed once you pass away, give us a call at Elder Law Services of California (855) ELDER LAW to receive a FREE consultation today. Our team of experienced estate planning attorney are ready to help meet your needs. We look forward to serving you.