Merriam Webster defines estate planning as: "the arranging for the disposition and management of one's estate at death through the use of wills, trusts, insurance policies, and other devices." What that means in real terms is that each person takes steps to make property, of whatever type, go to the people who that person wishes it to go to when they die. Inaction in this area constitutes action as each State has its own intestacy statute.
If there is no will, trust, or other distributive instrument which clearly defines how assets are to be distributed upon death the intestacy statute will govern the distribution of assets. This may not always lead to the desired outcome as some states pass all of the assets to the current spouse at time of death while others presume a division between ALL of the children of the testator, potentially natural, step, legitimate and illegitimate, and the spouse at the time of death.
Additionally, some states have special provisions for common law spouses. Even in states that do not recognize common law marriages, meretricious relationships that entitle unmarried parties to a distributive share even when not included in the will or other distributive scheme may be recognized. In short, the process of estate planning is designed to take these complicated laws and fix a distributive scheme as desired by the planner. It is a process that sometimes can take a substantial amount of time and may incur costs but is well worth the effort.
If you have questions, you may contact our Firm to schedule a no charge consultation in these types of matters.