A comprehensive estate plan may contain many elements, including trusts, insurance policies, deeds, and powers of attorney. But nearly every estate plan must include a will as its central component. A well-drafted will coordinates other elements of the estate plan, ensuring they work together properly. A will also clearly designates an executor to handle the estate and defines the powers he or she may exercise.

But even if you do not have a complex estate plan and do not plan to build one, it is still very important to have a will. While California law does provide for the contingency of a person dying without a will—a process known as intestacy—these rules can be vague and are often inflexible. Your family ultimately does receive your property, but not in the amount or proportion you likely preferred.

In short, any indication you may have given regarding who you wanted to receive certain property does little good unless you memorialize it in writing in accordance with the California Probate Code. The process of intestate succession can very easily cause family strife. With no executor designated, it falls to the courts to appoint someone to administer the estate. This can quickly create conflict if several family members step forward to assume the responsibility.

Moreover, a variety of people who were important to you during your life may have few or no rights under California intestate succession laws. A longtime girlfriend or boyfriend, fiancé, or other close personal friend has no rights to property through intestate succession. This system only distributes property to family members and does not take into account any non-familial relations, no matter how close.

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Last update of the article: 06/22/2020.

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