You may have been privy to a conversation between your parents when your uncle passed away without a will. It may have stuck with you because the tone was obviously stressed. Now that you are older and contemplating creating a will, you wonder if it is something you need to deal with. Remembering your uncle’s death and subsequent infighting that occurred between your aunts and uncles, you think that drafting one may be in your family’s best interest. The answer to what happens if you die without a will may differ depending on where you live, but one thing is universal: It isn’t a simple process.
When a person passes without leaving an estate plan, it is up to the courts to decide how to handle the decedent’s wishes without knowing anything about them. The court becomes responsible for drafting a will and carrying it out with only some basic information. Dying without a will is called intestacy, and the laws of succession in the state you live determine what path your assets and property follow before ultimately getting passed on to an heir.
General Guidelines for Administering an Estate Without a Will
There are some basic rules that most states follow when it comes to deciding what happens when a person dies without a will. First, a personal representative or attorney must open a case with the local probate court to start the process. Once the court is satisfied that there is no will, it requests an accounting of the decedent’s assets and property and then their debts.
Surviving Spouse and the Chain of Succession
The court then looks for descendants of the deceased in an attempt to direct assets accordingly. These descendants generally get put into categories according to their familial relationship to the decedent. The closer the relative, the more likely they are to inherit what is left after debts get paid. This is where things get interesting. If there is a surviving spouse, this process may go quicker as almost everything may pass directly to the spouse. However, the laws of succession may vary, and there are conditions on how assets are ultimately divided. If the deceased shared children with the spouse, the estate will most likely pass easily. However, in the case of second marriages, only a portion will pass to the spouse, with a part being reserved for the deceased’s biological children.
Creating a will is something that everyone should do when they start working or purchasing property. It will stop the possible infighting that may occur upon your passing. Finding a Folsom estate planning lawyer may make the process of drafting a plan much easier.
Thanks to the Yee Law Group for their insight into estate planning and what happens when you die without a will.