You may have seen the ads. They depict tragic scenarios – mouths clogged with peanut butter, cookies with nowhere to be dipped – truly, we are warned of the horrors awaiting those with an inadequate dairy beverage supply.
Out here in the real world, though, there are more pressing issues. There are questions that might need answers: who will take care of your kids if you can’t? How can you protect the people you love? If you can’t speak for yourself, who will – and will they care what you think about it?
According to Benjamin Franklin, “in this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Despite this certainty, however, most estimates indicate that roughly two-thirds of Americans don’t have even a basic will. Perhaps they think they aren’t wealthy enough to need one. Maybe they think everything will go to their spouses anyway, so it’s pointless. Or maybe they just don’t want to think about it.
The fact is, someone will have to deal with your assets when you die, no matter what size your estate will be. If you have no legally-valid will when you die, your estate must go through a court process called probate. Probate takes time (6-18 months on average, in California) and a lot of money (mostly for court costs and the probate attorney). During the process, your assets are frozen; if you have surviving family, they can request a living allowance from the court, but that takes time and money, too. More to the point, the court makes all the decisions, without regard for what your wishes might have been.
If you have a legal spouse or domestic partner, much of your estate is probably community property. That doesn’t help, though, if both of you die in the same accident or at the same time. (And let’s think about this for a moment: what are the chances that you’d be with your life partner at any given moment? Hmmm . . . ) Nor does it prevent probate with respect to those assets that are not community property.
Making an estate plan isn’t as much fun as, say, planning a trip to the Bahamas. In the long run, though, it can save your heirs enough time to enable them to go on that trip – and make sure they’ll be able to pay for it, too.
Kathleen A. Hunt, Esq. is the founder of Unique Law, a law practice serving unique individuals and their families throughout the greater Bay Area. She can be reached by phone (510-289-2288) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) at any time.