Many people do not know this, but everyone has an estate plan. Just because you do not have a will, or trust, or have gone to an estate planning lawyer, does not mean you do not have an estate plan.
Note I did not say you have a good estate plan. I did not say you have a custom tailored and well implemented estate plan. No, what you may have is a set of laws and contracts that comprise your estate plan.
If you pass away without a will (trust assets are technically not owned by you) California already has a plan all set and ready for you. If you die without a will you are deemed to have died intestate, and the California’s intestacy rules kick in. I’ve copied the rules below just for illustration.
(a) As to community property, the intestate share of the surviving spouse is the one-half of the community property that belongs to the decedent under Section 100.
(b) As to quasi-community property, the intestate share of the surviving spouse is the one-half of the quasi-community property that belongs to the decedent under Section 101.
(c) As to separate property, the intestate share of the surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 37, is as follows:
(1) The entire intestate estate if the decedent did not leave any surviving issue, parent, brother, sister, or issue of a deceased brother or sister.
(2) One-half of the intestate estate in the following cases:
(A) Where the decedent leaves only one child or the issue of one deceased child.
(B) Where the decedent leaves no issue but leaves a parent or parents or their issue or the issue of either of them.
(3) One-third of the intestate estate in the following cases:
(A) Where the decedent leaves more than one child.
(B) Where the decedent leaves one child and the issue of one or more deceased children.
(C) Where the decedent leaves issue of two or more deceased children.
So that’s the bulk of your estate plan. So if this is exactly what you want, you’re done! Don’t do anything at all. However, if it isn’t, you probably should look into doing some custom estate planning.
If you have a retirement plan or life insurance, the beneficiaries you designated with the custodian will receive these assets. In addition, if you have any pay on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) accounts, those shall pay/transfer accordingly. Also, if any assets you owned are owned in joint tenancy that also shall pass as such.
Do you need an attorney for that? Just like you don’t need a contractor to install a shelf for you, you don’t need an attorney if your goals are very simple.
However, if you are trying to build a spare room, you might want to contact that contractor.