If you die without a will, trust, or estate plan—referred to as dying intestate—your property will be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession of the state where you resided at your death. Your loved ones will have to petition the probate court to have a personal representative named to administer your estate. In California, your property will be distributed partly to your spouse or registered domestic partner, and partly to your children and other relatives in a priority prescribed by law. If you do not have a spouse, registered domestic partner, or living relatives, your property goes to the State of California. Your friends, unregistered domestic partner, and favorite charities will receive nothing.
Having a carefully structured estate plan, can help protect your estate from unnecessary estate taxes. It can also avoid having your estate go through probate after your death. In California, any estate with more than $150,000 in assets is required to go through the probate process, which is a public process through which the probate court oversees administration and distribution of estates. A good estate plan can structure your estate to avoid probate completely. The details about your estate are kept private, and the probate court does not become involved in distribution of your estate. Avoiding probate saves on expenses and time. Your heirs will be able to receive their distributions from the estate more quickly, and there will be more assets to distribute because of the tax and expense savings.
A good estate plan also includes documents like durable powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives, which designate the individual or institution that will take care of you and your finances in the event you become incapacitated during your lifetime.