Morris & Morris, A Law Corporation - Estate Planning

Arcadia California Estate Planning And Probate Blog

Consider an annual review of your estate plan

Many people think of estate planning as a goal that they need to accomplish eventually. They put it on a list and then cross it off when they get done with it. They feel prepared for what the future holds.

The reality, though, is that that is not good enough. Don't think of estate planning as something that you need to do once, allowing you to check it off and then count it as something you have already done. That's better than having no plan at all, but you really need to make it a consistent process. You need to review your plan. You need to make sure it's up to date.

Most Americans lack even a basic estate plan

Most people understand the need for a will or an estate plan. They know what it does. They know how it helps their family. They know that they need one.

But the reality is that most people -- more than half -- don't have one. Even that says nothing about more complex plans that use trusts, powers of attorney, advance directives and the like. The percentage of people with intricate plans designed to maximize their advantage is very small indeed.  So, why does this happen? Why is there such a disconnect? Here are a few potential reasons:

Protecting your will from a challenge when you disinherit someone

Families are as complicated as the people who belong to them. It is not unusual for the dynamics of your family to change as your children mature and age. Someone whom you once viewed as trustworthy could later become someone who makes terrible decisions or who struggles with addiction.

It is, unfortunately, common for parents and grandparents to realize that a family member for whom they once wanted to leave an inheritance may no longer deserve an inheritance or would misuse those assets to support a dangerous habit. Choosing to disinherit someone can be a difficult decision, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is the wrong choice.

Why you need to consider creating a living will for yourself

For many people, an estate plan is simply a way for them to officially record their wishes about who gets what when they die. However, an estate plan can and arguably should be far more comprehensive than simply notes about your assets.

If you have children, for example, your estate plan should absolutely include a clause naming a guardian for your child in the event that something happens to you. You may also want to consider expanding your estate plan to include not only a will for when you die but also a living will in case you wind up medically incapacitated.

Why should someone challenge a will?

A will gives the final say on what happens to someone's estate. It splits up money among heirs, instructs them on how to divide physical property and turns over assets to the next generation. Some wills are very simple, essentially just telling their heirs what assets exist and giving them a chance to divide things up as they see fit, while others offer far more detail and really lay out a plan that the heirs must follow.

Generally speaking, this process happens without issue. However, there are cases where people decide to challenge a will. They feel that it should not have the final say and that the family needs a different resolution. Why would someone do this? Below are a few potential reasons:

Estate planning is crucial for single parents

Life as a single parent is difficult. Your children count on you for everything, but you also have to take care of yourself. There are many aspects that you must think about, including what is going to happen to your children if you pass away or become incapacitated. While it isn't pleasant to think about this, it is necessary.

While you are still mentally and physically able, you need to sit down and come up with a solid plan for the kids. This includes every aspect of their life from who will care for them to how their care costs will be covered. The more you plan for this now, the more at peace you might feel knowing that things aren't going to be left up in the air.

Using a no-contest clause to protect your California estate plan

The more assets you have acquired over the course of your life, the stronger your feelings may be about what happens to those assets when you die. If you are like most people, you have probably put significant thought into who should receive which of your assets after your death.

Those decisions aren't always easy. In some cases, you feel compelled to leave one member of your family out of your estate plan or last will. This process, called disinheriting someone, effectively removes someone from your last will and prevents them from inheriting your assets.

Reasons you might disinherit someone

Every now and then, an aging parent has an heir that they want to cut out of their will. This is known as disinheriting that person. In short, it is someone who would otherwise assume they'd get an inheritance, but they will get nothing.

For instance, perhaps you have four children. You have about $900,000 in assets to divide between the four of them. However, you do not want the youngest to get anything, so you simply leave $300,000 to the older three and nothing to the last child.

What does “intestate” mean for California inheritance?

No one understands your family and your family members’ needs better than you do, but if you don’t communicate those needs, the State of California has its own plans.

The term is “intestate succession,” and it applies to any Californian who doesn’t create a will before passing.

What can you do now to care for you loved ones once you’re gone?

As you look to the future, you likely believe you will not truly have to worry about your estate plan for many years to come. However, you probably know it is wise to document your wishes.

There are many mistakes people make in their estate planning. Being aware of some common errors might save your loved ones some trouble in the event of your incapacity or passing.

  • The State Bar of California
  • LACBA | LOS ANGELES COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION
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