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If you die without a will, California has strict laws

You think you have decades before you'll need a will, so you don't bother to write one. Then you pass away in a car accident far sooner than you assumed. You've now passed away without an estate plan, so what happens to your estate?

It really depends on the specifics of the situation, such as whether you were married and if you had kids. The thing to remember, though, is that California has some strict laws that have to be followed.

For instance, imagine that you are survived by a parent and a spouse or by your parents with no descendants. If this is true, your spouse gets all of the community property -- the property you owned together during your marriage -- and 50 percent of your separate property. Your parents get the other 50 percent of your separate property.

Is that exactly what you wanted to happen with your estate? Maybe you had no real relationship with your parents, and you wanted 100 percent of your estate to go to your spouse. Maybe you were on the verge of a divorce, and you wanted 100 percent to go to your parents. Maybe you wanted to take all of your estate and give it to charity so that you could do some good with the money after you died.

There are countless examples and options, but you do not get to use any of them if you die without a will. The law simply decides what will happen. That's why it's so important to know how to draft an estate plan in advance.

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