People with no close family still living and no children or spouse often give little thought to estate planning. If you’re this group, however, as increasingly more Californians are, estate planning is especially important.
If you die without a will (intestate), your assets will go to family members regardless of how close you may or may not be to them. A nephew you’ve never met or a stepsister who tormented you as a child could inherit your estate.
You can leave your estate to friends and charities
You can designate non-family members to inherit your assets. More and more people are leaving most or all their money and property to friends and charities.
If you choose to exclude family members like siblings who might expect to receive something, it’s wise to designate that you’re not leaving anything to particular people (by name or relationship). This can prevent legal contests after you’re gone. If you have a longtime romantic partner, if you aren’t married, you need to include them in your estate plan. Otherwise, they could end up with nothing.
Designating responsibility for health care, finances, pets and more
It’s critical to plan for a time when you may be alive but incapacitated. If you don’t have close family (or even if you do), you should have an advance health care directive and a health care agent with the authority to advocate for your wishes. You can choose any adult, related or not, whom you trust with that responsibility. The same is true for your finances. You should designate someone to have power of attorney (POA) over your finances if you’re incapacitated.
If you have a pet, designate a pet caregiver if the event of your incapacity or death. California also allows people to set up pet trusts to provide funds to care for their animals after they’re gone. Too many people assume that friends or family will take in their pets only to have those animals end up in overcrowded shelters and euthanized.
You’ll also need to designate an executor for your estate. Don’t name someone to any of these roles (which could all be given to one person if you choose) without discussing the responsibilities with them and getting their okay. With experienced legal guidance, you can create an estate plan that works for you and helps ensure that your wishes will be carried out.