You have worked hard and made difficult decisions throughout your life to build up your financial resources. You may have skipped going on vacation for years so that you could put that money aside for your retirement instead.
Those assets you’ve acquired during your lifetime are yours to control, at least until you die. Once you die, your property will pass to other people. Your estate plan gives you control over what happens with your financial accounts, physical property and even your home when you die. If you are like most people, your closest family members are likely the ones that you would like to leave resources for when you die.
However, you may have unusual family circumstances that require more consideration than usual. Perhaps you have an estranged spouse who you haven’t divorced but no longer talk to. Maybe you have a child with an addiction issue. If there is someone that you don’t want to leave an inheritance for, can you cut them out of your last will?
Creating an estate plan lets you control what happens with your property
There are two main paths for your estate to follow. The intestate succession path is for those who die without an estate plan or last will. California state law takes over and mandates that property goes to your closest family members. Your spouse and your children have the strongest inheritance rights, although even siblings or distant relatives can inherit some of your property if you don’t have immediate family.
If you have a difficult relationship with your children or don’t have a spouse and kids, using the path that requires an estate plan will give you more say in what happens with your property after you die. You can choose to leave property to certain people or exclude others.
Integrating a trust into your estate plan can make it easier to create specific requirements or eliminate one person’s inheritance with fewer chances of a challenge. You could disinherit one family member or skip an entire generation if you wanted to. Still, there is typically one person that you can’t fully disinherit.
Your spouse has certain protections due to community property laws
While your estate plan may take precedence over intestate succession laws, your last wishes won’t take priority over your spouse’s rights to their share of the community property from your marriage.
Some people attempt to disinherit their spouse when they die, which could lead to the entire estate getting dragged through court and possibly the decision by the court to set aside the estate plan. At minimum, your spouse has a right to their share of the community property, possibly more depending on your family’s circumstances.
Disinheriting someone can easily lead to challenges and probate conflict, so careful estate planning and custom-made documents could become even more important to your legacy if you must leave someone out of your generosity.