Dying without a will is no light matter. 68% of Americans do not have wills, including thousands of older people at risk of death.
Someone’s estate does not vanish into thin air if they die without a will. A professional in inheritance law has to come along and manage it, following intestate succession laws.
What exactly is intestate succession? What happens when someone dies before they write a will? What should you do during the process?
Answer these questions and you can figure out the way forward after your loved one dies without a will. Here is your quick guide.
The Basics of Intestate Succession
Intestate succession occurs when someone dies without a legal will. A legal will determines how someone’s estate will be split up after they die. Without a will, a probate court decides how to split someone’s estate up.
Someone may have spoken about their intentions for their estate or written a non-legal document. The court can examine their intentions, but it is under no authority to follow them. A legal will must have witnesses and clear beneficiaries in order to have legal weight.
What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will
The Uniform Probate Code provides baseline regulations for intestate succession. A probate court will first do an investigation to see if someone has a will or not. A person may have filed a will years ago and then forgotten about it.
Once it is determined that someone did not have a will, the court will look into the deceased person’s estate. They will collect financial documents and interview family members about the property that the person owned.
Most probate courts will give the majority of the estate to the deceased person’s spouse. Their children will receive equal shares of money and property. Grandchildren, nieces, and nephews can also receive shares, though they may be very small.
What to Do if Your Loved One Dies Intestate
The problem with intestate succession is that a court may not follow someone’s desires. Someone may wish to give their grandchildren more property than their children. Someone may also want to give something to their business associate or friend, but probate courts rarely give property to non-family members.
If your loved one wrote an informal will, you should hire a will lawyer who can vouch for the document. If they did not, you should hire a probate lawyer who will negotiate on your behalf.
Try to help the probate court however you can. You should give them the contact information of your loved one’s children and surviving relatives. The more cooperative you are, the more likely they are to listen to you.
How to Figure Out Intestate Succession
Intestate succession is the process of handling someone’s estate when they die without a will. A probate court appoints an administrator to contact legal heirs and hand property out.
Probate courts follow regulations that favor biological family members. They may not take into account falling-outs between family members.
For a court to respect your loved one’s wishes, you need to hire an attorney. You should also assist the court with its investigation and communicate your own desires.
Estate planning is tricky, and you need all the facts you can get. Read more estate planning guides by following our coverage.