Dear Stefanie:
My husband recently passed away. We had no children. I have two special nieces whom we loved as if they were our own. I would like to leave my assets to them. Sadly, my only sister (the mother of my nieces) and I do not get along. How do I best ensure that my nieces inherit my money rather than my sister?

-Anxious on Alderman

Dear Anxious on Alderman:
If you don’t have a Will or Trust, there is a distinct possibility that your sister will inherit your estate. Without a Will or Trust, the State of California dictates your beneficiaries and they may not be of your liking.
Default beneficiaries under State law would be your closest living relatives. If you had descendants, the assets would go to them. Without descendants, your assets would go to your parents or grandparents, if they are living. Otherwise, your estate would be distributed amongst your siblings, if any, and if not, to their children.
If you have no estate plan, your parents are no longer alive and your only sister survives you, there is a good chance she will inherit your entire estate. In this situation, your nieces would not have rights to the money. You can draft a Will or Trust leaving the assets to your nieces.
For those with no family and no written documents, the estate goes to the State of California.