(For brevity, this article doesn’t address the important differences between community property and separate property.)
With rare exceptions, we all have the right to control what happens to our assets after we pass away. But if those instructions aren’t clearly put in writing, state law will control what happens.
Consider a scenario where you pass away after living a long life. You are survived by a spouse, three children, five grandchildren, and a disabled older brother whom you have been supporting for the past decade. But you didn’t have a will or trust to direct how your assets are to be distributed. By law, one third of your assets will go to your spouse, and two thirds will go to your children. Your grandchildren will get nothing, and your disabled brother will get nothing. Is that what you would have wanted? Probably not. But even if it was, your family will still need to go to court to get the legal right to distribute your assets. Worse still is the chance that one disgruntled person claims that you promised them this or that, and now all your assets -- and the people you care about -- are stuck in an expensive court battle for years.
A careful estate plan will avoid -- or at least greatly minimize -- all of these problems by spelling out your unique wishes clearly and completely. It’s not complicated to do now, and its value will be priceless in the future.
When your time is up, you’re going to have something to pass along to your loved ones. Estate planning isn’t about you. It’s about providing for the people you care about.