If you have yet to create an estate plan, you have surely had to listen to well-meaning friends and family members urge you to get started on a plan. They may not, however, have explained to you some of the reasons why having an estate plan in place is so vital to you and your loved ones. To remedy that let’s look at three reasons why you don’t want to die intestate.
What Does It Mean to Die “Intestate?”
First and foremost, you need to understand some of the legal jargon related to estate planning. When a decedent left behind a valid Last Will and Testament, the individual is said to have died “testate.” On the other hand, if a decedent failed to leave behind a Will (or a trust that distributed the decedent’s estate) the estate left behind is referred to as an “intestate” estate.
Why Do I Want to Avoid Dying Intestate?
To help provide the impetus you need to get started on your estate plan, consider the following three reasons why you don’t want to die without a plan:
- You allow the state to decide what happens to your assets. Whether you have already amassed a valuable estate or you are just starting to acquire estate assets, the odds are very good that you care what happens to the assets you do have. You may, for example, have family heirlooms that have been in the family for generations that you intend to pass on to someone specific. Or maybe you have a collection that you promised to a favorite niece or nephew. If you are a philanthropist, you may also hope to leave your assets to a charity that is close to your heart or you might have strong religious beliefs and want a church or other religious organization to inherit the assets you own when you die. Regardless of how you wish to distribute your estate assets, you give up the ability to make those decisions if you leave behind an intestate estate. When a decedent dies intestate, the state intestate succession laws determine how the estate assets are distributed. Those laws typically dictate that assets be passed down to close family members only and in the proportions established by the laws only.
- It will likely take longer to administer your estate. One of the many advantages to creating an estate plan is the ability to incorporate probate avoidance tools and strategies into that plan. Probate is the legal process that is usually required following the death of an individual. Probate can be costly and time consuming which is why many people actively try to avoid it within their estate plan. When an individual dies intestate, however, it means that no effort was made to avoid probate. Assets that might have been distributed immediately to the intended beneficiaries end up tied up in probate for months, even years sometimes.
- The possibility of disputes increases. Finally, leaving behind an intestate estate also increases the likelihood of disputes that could turn into protracted litigation. When a decedent failed to leave behind even a basic Will it is impossible to know how he/she intended to distribute estate assets. It also makes it impossible to know who he/she intended to oversee the administration of the estate. Heirs often squabble over the assets and over how the assets can be used. If estate assets need to be sold to pay creditors or to divide the estate according to the intestate succession laws, heirs often disagree over which assets should be sold. Not only can these disputes be financially costly, but they can also cause a rift in the family that may never really heal.
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning, contact us at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.