Many people in California know they should prepare an estate plan, but they put it off. There are a lot of reasons people postpone estate planning. Some think it will be a lot of work, some believe they are too busy and some avoid it because they don't like to think about the fact that someday they will not be around anymore.
Baseball fans of a certain age will remember Ernie Banks, the former Chicago Cub shortstop and first baseman whom many consider one of the best players of all time. Banks was the first African-American to play for the Cubs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. He died in 2015 shortly after his 84th birthday. Unfortunately, his estate remains mired in litigation.
Virtually all wills include a provision naming the person who will serve as executor of the estate. The executor is the person chosen by the testator to administer the estate, pay estate debts and taxes and distribute the assets according to the instructions in the will. Wills commonly name one or more alternate executors, in case the first person named is unable or unwilling to serve.
Any person, not only seniors, may face circumstances where she cannot handle daily and legal tasks because of an unexpected accident or health condition. A power of attorney may be insurance that a trusted person can step in and handle such personal matters.
We've probably all heard of tragic situations in which a husband and wife are both killed in an auto accident or a plane crash. This can create estate administration issues if it cannot be established which of them died first. Fortunately, the California Probate Code has provisions addressing this situation.
In California, when someone dies without a will or trust their property is distributed according to the state's intestacy laws. If there is a surviving spouse, it all goes to him or her. If not, it goes to children in equal shares, with the share of any deceased child going to their children. If there are no children, the estate goes to parents, then to siblings and then to more distant relatives, in that order. Thus, a person who dies without a will or trust runs the risk that their assets will go to people they wouldn't have chosen themselves, including relatives to whom they haven't spoken in decades.