Anyone may die with assets that were not accounted for during life or that were not prepared for an orderly disposition at death. For those situations, where even a single asset is left hanging, an estate may have to be opened under California law to account for the property and pay taxes where necessary. By engaging in just a little bit of estate planning, an individual or married couple can make a will or mutual wills and assure themselves that each asset will go the heirs that they designate.
There are many ways to set up the distribution of assets to one's chosen beneficiaries. This can involve designating a beneficiary on a life insurance policy or stating the name of one's beneficiary on a retirement policy. Property can also be titled together as husband and wife, with the right of survivorship, meaning that it will go automatically at death to the surviving spouse. This type of preparation in advance can become complex, however, and should be done only on the recommendation of an experienced estate planning attorney.
It is always possible to make an egregious error when trying to map out what seems to be easily understood financial documents or legal instruments. The fact is that these kinds of documents may have unintended legal or economic consequences if all of the potential impacts are not accounted for when dealing with the asset. In addition, when one consults an estate planning attorney, other extremely helpful tools may be discussed for a more complete approach to the transitional periods in one's life.
In California as in most areas, some of these additional estate planning aides include a power of attorney and also a medical directive. The power of attorney makes it possible to have a trusted appointee act in the person's behalf if he/she becomes incapacitated. The same concerns are addressed by health care directives, which authorize a trusted designee to sign one's name for medical procedures and advise an incapacitated person's doctors of one's wishes for medical procedures.
Source: CNBC, "Think you're not rich enough to need a will? Think again", Deborah Nason, Oct. 24, 2017