INTESTATE SUCCESSION – DYING WITHOUT A WILL

What happens when someone dies without a will (called, “dying intestate”)? Who gets what?

In California, when someone dies without a will, or with a will that does not dispose of all of his or her property, the laws of intestate succession determine who the decedent’s heirs are, and how much they will get of the estate.

ESTATE TAX VS. INHERITANCE TAX

What is the difference between estate tax and inheritance tax?

Estate tax is that owed and payable by the estate.  The federal government applies an estate tax to estates over $5.43 million for 2015 (this amount is indexed and is scheduled to increase every year).  For states that impose an estate tax (most do not, including California), the residence of the decedent determines whether or not state estate tax will apply.

MILLIONAIRE HOARDER’S ESTATE UP FOR GRABS

Gerald Willits died at the age of 76 years old, in Orange County.  Mr. Willits, a plumber, lived a life of solitude, estranged from his daughter and so detached from others that it was several days before anyone discovered his remains.

The rooms in Mr. Willits’ one-story house were piled high with paper, fast-food wrappers and other trash, and were infested with rats.

ROBIN WILLIAMS’ ESTATE – THE VALUE OF WELL DRAFTED TRUSTS

A year after his death, Robin Williams’ third wife, Susan, and his kids Zachary (from his first marriage), Zelda and Cody (both from his second marriage), are still at war with one another.  The issues at stake are: division of his personal property, which was not explicitly dealt with in his trust, and; how much money is needed to maintain the residence that Susan shared with Williams, for which, per Williams’ estate planning documents, his estate is to provide sufficient funds to maintain during Susan’s life.

HOW DO I KNOW IF PROBATE HAS OCCURRED AND/OR IF THERE WAS A WILL?

There are some occasions where an individual may not be privy to whether a family member provided for them in their will, in life insurance, in a trust, or in some other manner.  This can arise where family members have become estranged; a common scenario involves remarriage of a parent, the new spouse of which does not get along with the children.

Types of Probate Proceedings

A full probate proceeding is not always necessary, even if the Decedent did not have a trust.  This blog will briefly survey the available procedures for transferring non-trust, non-joint assets of a decedent.

 -FULL PROBATE-

A full probate is necessary if the Decedent’s gross estate is valued at more than $150,000, or s/he had real property in California worth more than $50,000.  The probate process is described in detail in our 8-06-2015 blog.

TOP TEN COMMON ESTATE PLANNING MISTAKES

A will or trust can not only fail to carry out the decedent’s intent, it can actually frustrate the intended estate distribution, and cost the decedent’s loved ones significant time and money, not to mention anguish.

Particularly in an era of online-assisted do-it-yourself legal work, poorly made self-made and cookie cutter wills and trusts abound.