Berge & Berge, LLP Blog

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dying Without a Will or Trust Can Cost You Money, Privacy, and Control

What happens if I die without a will or trust in California?

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”-Prince

In late April, the music world was shocked by the loss of the artist (formerly known as) Prince, who died suddenly at the young age of 57. The above quote is a lyric from one of his most popular songs, “Let’s Go Crazy”.

And speaking of crazy…one thing most people do as they “get through this thing called life” is prepare a will or trust. Prince-- a man worth an untold fortune, with no spouse, parents, grandparents, or known children—apparently died without either.

As someone who was known to cherish his privacy and to take control of his legal affairs, it was a surprise to many that Prince died “intestate”, which means that he died without a will. When you die without a will or trust in place which specifies who you want to inherit your assets, the court will distribute your assets in accordance with the state’s intestacy succession laws, which differ from state to state. It appears that Prince’s one surviving sibling and several half-siblings, as the closest biological relatives, stand to inherit his fortune-- which may or may not be what Prince would have wanted.

Had Prince placed his assets in a trust, it would not only have ensured that they were distributed in accordance with his wishes—not to mention generally more quickly and with fewer fees—but it would have kept the details surrounding his assets and who inherited them private. Having to probate a will or administer an intestate estate makes all those personal financial details a matter of public record. So much for privacy and control.

The intestacy laws were designed to distribute the assets of one who dies without a will to the people who are most closely biologically-related to the deceased on the assumption that those are the people s/he would have wanted as beneficiaries. In many cases, that would be the surviving spouse and/or children, so the intestacy distribution may be exactly (or at least close to) what the decedent would have wanted if s/he had made a will.

But what if it isn’t?

What if the decedent wanted their spouse to inherit everything (instead of sharing the assets with the children) or wanted to disinherit an estranged child or wanted to leave something (or everything) to a charity or a best friend or partner? Well, it’s too late now. No will, no deviation from the intestacy distribution schedule. In Prince’s case, his closest relatives are pretty far removed. In general, the farther removed you get, the greater the likelihood that those more distant relatives are not the people you would have chosen to inherit everything if you had taken the time to make a will or trust.

There are a few lessons we can all learn from the late performer:

  • You never know when your time on this planet is going to end.
  • It’s never too early to plan for that inevitable event.
  • Failure to plan may result in extra costs, loss of privacy, and most importantly, the disposition of your assets in a manner that may be against your wishes.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you protect your loved ones after you’re gone. A properly implemented  estate plan, whether by will or trust, can insure your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes, save your estate costs, maximize tax advantages, streamline the estate’s probate and distribution, and give you piece of mind.

The Law Offices of Berge & Berge in San Jose, California, is a South Bay estate planning law firm. All attorneys focus their work exclusively in the areas of personal estate planning, estate tax law, asset protection, probate, and estate settlement procedures. With over 23 years of experience and our unique 3-Step Master Plan, ™ we can service all of your estate planning needs. If you don’t have a will or trust, have changed your mind about the terms of an existing will or trust, or are concerned that a change in your circumstances may require an updated estate plan, contact The Law Offices of Berge & Berge today at (408) 985-9918 or online here.

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