What is an Estate Plan? Do I Really Need One?

It’s a new year, and for many Rancho Cucamonga, CA residents, it’s filled with resolutions and hopes for the coming months. As you think about the upcoming year, take steps to care for your family by creating an estate plan. While no one wants to think about dying, an estate plan can ensure your family is taken care of if the unthinkable happens. It ensures loved ones receive the assets you want them to have and avoids many probate costs.

What Happens if I Don’t Have a Trust in Rancho Cucamonga?

Probate is the court-supervised process that legally transfers your property and distributes it to your beneficiaries per intestate succession rules if you don’t have a trust. Probate means there is a court case that will:

  • Decide if a valid will exists
  • Determine heirs
  • Calculate the value of the estate (your property)
  • Ensure debts are paid
  • Transfer property to your heirs

The state distributes assets to your closest relatives, regardless of the relationship or what you would have wanted. Heirs at law are relatives who can legally inherit your property. California’s intestacy laws determine who receives your property, how much of it and in what order. This process can become complicated and could take several years to complete. Court fees and other costs are associated with probate, so the longer it takes, the more expensive it becomes.

Does All Property Go Through Probate?

Not all property must pass through probate, and California has some simplified procedures if your estate’s value is below $166,250. There is also an easy way to transfer property if you have a spouse. Intestate succession only handles assets that a trust would have addressed if you had one.

If you have life insurance or retirement benefits, you can name a beneficiary specifically for those accounts, and they won’t go through probate. However, if you own a home or vehicle and have valuables, bank accounts, and debt, chances are at least some of your estate will go through the courts.

I’m in My 30s. Do I Need an Estate Plan?

Even people in their 20s and 30s can benefit from an estate plan. Working, getting together with friends and raising a family often fill the daily lives of Rancho Cucamonga residents. Creating an estate plan typically takes a backseat to other priorities. However, it can help you protect and care for your loved ones if the unexpected happens.

If you’re married, naming your spouse as a beneficiary can prevent the bulk of your assets from going through probate. The state will appoint a guardian if you die without a will and have minor children.

Getting Started

The easiest way to get started is to create a list of your property, such as the following:

  • Bank and retirement accounts
  • Family heirlooms
  • Personal items, such as jewelry and collectibles
  • Life insurance policies
  • Property, such as vehicles, your home and other real estate
  • Pets

After you have a list of assets, you can select a beneficiary for each and put it in your trust. If you have pets, it’s crucial that you consider who you want to care for them after you pass away. Discuss the possibility with your chosen beneficiary to ensure they can take on that responsibility.

Store your estate plan in a safe location. Many people choose to have a safe deposit box, fire safe box or an attorney hold this and other critical documents. Make sure you let beneficiaries, or your chosen executor know where you keep these documents and ensure they are accessible when needed.

Next Steps

Having an estate plan is a critical step to making your end-of-life plan. There are a few additional documents you may want to complete while working on your trust and will so that you know you have an end-of-life plan.

  • Durable Power of Attorney – Allows you to name a person to handle your legal and financial affairs if you become unable to manage them yourself.
  • Medical (Healthcare) Power of Attorney – Allows you to name a person to make decisions about your medical care if you cannot (e.g., you were critically injured in an accident).
  • Advance Directives – These documents specify your preferences for medical care if you cannot communicate them yourself. They are used if you are terminally ill, in a coma, have late-stage dementia, or are near death. Advance directives also ensure you do not receive treatments you don’t want, such as Do Not Resuscitate. This makes it easier for your family to make the decisions you would want.

Ask About an Estate Plan in Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Although you do not need an attorney for an estate plan, the legal requirements and your preferences can complicate matters quickly. Terrence Fantauzzi can answer your questions and guide you through the estate planning process to ensure your documents comply with California law and meet your needs.

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