Distribution of assets
Estate planning attorney serving santa rosa & sonoma county
When you have worked diligently your entire life to accumulate assets and build a legacy that you can pass on to your loved ones, your family or a favorite charity, you probably want to have control over how your assets are distributed. The only way that you can be in control of who gets what property and when, is to plan in advance by creating an estate plan.
If you do not plan ahead, then your assets will be distributed according to California's intestate succession laws, which are the laws that go into effect when you die without a will (intestate). To begin your planning, your will is a legal document in which you provide specific instructions to be carried out when you pass away. With a will you can direct the distribution of your money and property, and you can select a guardian for your children.
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You can also name an executor to collect and manage your assets, pay any debts and expenses and distribute the remaining assets to your beneficiaries. Keep in mind that a will is only a part of the estate planning process, and whether you have a small or a large estate, you probably need an comprehensive estate plan.
What a will can & cannot do
A will does not necessarily cover everything that you own. Basically, a will affects only those assets that are titled in your name when you die.
Those assets that are not affected by a will include:
- Life insurance with a beneficiary designation
- Retirement plans with named beneficiaries
- Assets owned as a joint tenant with a right of survivorship
- Transfer on death or payable on death accounts
Other property not affected by a will includes assets held in a living trust and community property with rights of survivorship; for example, when one spouse or domestic partner dies, the assets pass directly to the surviving spouse or partner without being affected by the existence of a will.
If you die without a will and you are not married or in a registered domestic partnership, then your assets will be distributed among your children and grandchildren, if you have any. Or, they will be distributed to your brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, or other relatives. If your spouse or domestic partner passes before you do, then keep in mind that his or her relatives may be entitled to a portion or all of the estate.
If you die without a will, friends or favorite charities will not receive anything and if you die without any living relatives whatsoever, then the state of California becomes your beneficiary.
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If you establish a living trust (one that is created during your lifetime), then your will is generally referred to as a pour over will. In such cases your will provides instructions to transfer the remaining assets that were not included in your trust to the living trust at the time of your passing.