If you are a Californian who doesn’t have an estate plan in place — even a simple will or trust — your assets will be distributed after your death according to the California Probate Code. This law delineates what percentage of a deceased person’s assets various family members are entitled to receive simply by virtue of their familial connection.
Of course, one of the many advantages of having an estate plan is that you can determine how you want your assets divided among your heirs and other beneficiaries. For example, maybe you aren’t close to your siblings. Perhaps you’ve given your children every advantage and now they’re comfortably self-sufficient. You may have had a serious falling out with a parent who’s still alive.
Why not leave what would be their share of your estate under probate law to a person or organization you would like to see have the money?
When you’re working with your estate planning attorney, he or she will want to discuss your reasoning for making choices that vary from the distributions outlined by the California Probate Code. There are a number of reasons for this.
Your attorney needs to make sure that you understand that your asset distribution choices vary from what’s codified for estates that have to be settled through probate because there were no documents in place.
Your attorney may ask you to put something in writing addressing the reasoning for your decisions. This can help prevent estate contests by those who believe the deceased person didn’t understand what he or she was doing or was the victim of undue influence by someone else.
If there are concerns that a client may be under the influence of someone else, the attorney will likely meet with the client alone to make sure that the decisions about the provisions of the estate plan are what the client wishes and not the result of coercion, harassment or threats.
If you’re making decisions that you fear family members and other potential heirs may be unhappy with and perhaps try to challenge after your death, your attorney may advise you to talk with them so they’re less likely to challenge your estate plan. These conversations can be unpleasant, and many people would prefer not to have them. However, by doing so, you save time, money and stress for your loved ones after you’re gone.