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If someone dies without writing a will beforehand, this is called dying “intestate”. Because no instructions have been given as to how assets should be distributed, the state laws of intestate succession are used to determine who inherits the estate. In California, these laws generally give precedence to spouses and children. But when children are minors – under 18 – and one or both parents die, the situation gets more complicated. Not only does the question of who inherits what need to be answered, in some cases children will also be placed into the care of a guardian, and their assets secured in a trust until they can access them at 18. Many parents are surprised to learn that without estate and trust planning in advance, the courts will take charge of answering many of these questions. Here we look at the surprising consequences of dying without an estate plan when your children are under 18.

You Won’t Get To Choose Who Inherits What

By working with an estate law attorney to develop your will in advance, you get to decide who inherits what, down to the smallest detail. Your estate planning attorney can even bring your attention to different factors and details you may not have considered that will help to protect your assets and your family.

However, if you fail to make a will, the distribution of your assets will follow state law. State intestacy laws usually follow a fairly rigid and formulaic prescription of inheritance that can’t be easily changed. This could mean that your assets are divided between your spouse, children, or other relatives in a way not according to your wishes. Discussing an estate plan and any estate law questions you may have beforehand helps to ensure your assets are distributed the way that you want.

You Won’t Get To Choose Your Children’s Guardian

State laws, rather than your personal choice, may also direct the designation of a guardian for minor children whose parents die intestate. Knowing that their children are raised in a manner that reflects their values and offers the care and love that they would like to give is very important for parents. However, without a well-planned will, there may be no direction provided as to the naming a guardian for your children. This responsibility could fall the state courts and social services department to appoint someone to raise your children. Many parents prefer to have the choice and control of carefully considering who their children’s guardian would be in the event of their death.

Your Children’s Inheritance May Become Inaccessible

While state intestate laws govern how much of your estate your children receive, these laws also dictate that these assets are tied up in a trust fund until they are able to be accessed by the children at 18. This plan offers no provision for your children’s care in the meantime, nor does it govern how the inheritance is used and handled after your children turn 18. Understanding the intricacies of estate law and trust funds is a perspective an estate lawyer can offer you ahead of time when planning your estate. This allows you to make adequate provision for your children both now and into the future, according to your wishes.

Developing an estate plan is essential, but it’s even more important for those with children under 18. Discussing your options with an experienced and skillful estate planning attorney is the best way to secure and provide for your children’s future.