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Not Leaving a Will Can Leave Your Heirs Confused

It is never a good idea to avoid estate planning. While California law does provide for the distribution of estates without a will—that is, persons who die intestate—this often ends up costing your estate (and heirs) additional time and money. In addition, if you do not make a will, you forfeit any say over who will take responsibility for your assets as executor, which can lead to further delays in settling your affairs.

Lack of Will, Grandson’s Litigation Delays Distribution of Oakland Woman’s Estate

Intestate estate distributions can also be more complicated than you might think. Consider this recent California case, which is provided here merely as an illustration and not a complete statement of the law. The deceased in this case was an elderly woman who died without a will. She left one “significant asset,” her home in Oakland. One of the deceased’s granddaughters was named her personal representative of the estate. She apparently failed to perform her duties as personal representative, however, and four years later, the court named her attorney—who said he was “unable to reach his client”—as special administrator just to get a formal accounting of the estate filed.

There was also a longstanding legal dispute over the title to the grandmother’s property. Another grandson claimed to be the lawful surviving joint tenant. After several years of litigation, a California court determined this grandson only owned a one-sixth interest in the property, leaving the remaining five-sixths with the estate.

And who was entitled to that five-sixths? At the time of the grandmother’s death, she was survived by two daughters, who were each entitled to half of the estate. Unfortunately, several years had elapsed since the estate began and both daughters had died. One of the daughters also did not have a will, so her share of her mother’s estate had to pass under intestacy law. The intestate daughter was survived by a husband and three children, including the grandson who already owned one-sixth of the Oakland property. Under California law, the husband received one-third of the estate (or a 5/36 interest in the property) while the three children split the remaining two-thirds (leaving the one grandson with a 14/54 interest and his two siblings with a 5/54 interest each).

The grandson appealed the probate court’s decision, maintaining he was still entitled to the entire property. The California Court of Appeal rejected the appeal, citing a lack of any demonstrable error on the part of the probate judge.

Need Help Making a Will?

The estate above has been stuck in court for nearly eight years. If you want to avoid such an unnecessary and convoluted fate for your own estate, it is imperative to make a will as part of a comprehensive estate plan. An experienced California estate planning attorney can assist you with all aspects of the process. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady in San Diego today if you would like to speak with an attorney right away.

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