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When the average person thinks of an estate, they probably imagine a very wealthy person’s home, property, and belongings. The word “estate” is often used to describe well-to-do residential communities or the occasional high-rent apartment complex. As a legal term, however, the word “estate” has a very specific meaning, which can be a bit confusing at first.
What is an estate, exactly? Who owns them? Do I have an estate? If so, what am I supposed to do about it?
- Technically, almost anyone who owns a property has an estate. Whether it’s property like a house or land, investments such as stocks and bonds, or even personal property like a car or a collection of clothing; this is all considered an “estate”.
- The literal legal terminology comes into play when a person is deceased, and their property becomes a matter of public policy – i.e., how that person’s property is distributed among their survivors.
- The process of arranging those details is what’s properly known as “estate planning.”
The distribution of one’s property after their death is a matter of law in all fifty states. Each state has very precise and exact requirements in regards to estate planning. These safeguards help to ensure the property is passed to the deceased’s beneficiaries exactly as intended. Without these strict requirements, the process could easily generate disputes which can be extraordinarily difficult to manage – even for a court of law.
Ensuring that the fine details are covered before it becomes necessary to distribute property is what estate planning is meant to accomplish. Since it is a matter of law, it’s critical that a qualified and experienced Los Angeles estate planning attorney is involved every step of the way.
The Legal Process of Estate Planning
In some states, when a person dies, it is mandatory that their estate go through a legal process called probate. This is when a court of law determines if there is a legally sufficient will in place, or possibly a more elaborate plan like a living trust involved. Based on the contents of the will or the trust, the court then supervises the orderly distribution of the estate’s assets.
If there is no will, no trust and no estate plan, then the court is left to its own devices as to how to distribute property. This rarely satisfies anyone, as the court has no way of knowing the wishes or intentions of the deceased. When this occurs, the courts can only rely on the law itself and the self-serving words of each beneficiary. The word “chaos” comes to mind, and you may have heard of or personally know someone who has been through this struggle before. Hiring an experienced Los Angeles estate planning lawyer can help you avoid any problems and discrepancies regarding your estate.
Certain decisions must be made well in advance to allow for a competent plan of distribution and management of an estate’s assets. The living trust is a good example of the necessity of this kind of planning. If there is real property included, for example, the title and management responsibilities for each property have to be legally transferred to the trust and must become the purview of the trustee. This can be a complicated process, as many properties may still have mortgages, multiple owners, property tax issues, liens, or other complications. The required amount of paperwork and strict adherence to law can be an intimidating step and complex process. Without an estate planning attorney or help from a law group, you run the risk of errors and claims – even the tiniest of which can completely invalidate the legality or validity of your will or trust.