What happens if your loved one doesn’t leave a will?

Losing a loved one takes an emotional toll. It’s even tougher when the deceased leaves behind an estate without a will or legal documentation telling how that estate should be handled.

Fortunately, every state has laws that direct what will happen to property when someone dies without a valid will. If the deceased owns property greater than the sum of their enforceable debts and funeral expenses without any type of binding declaration, the estate is considered to be in intestacy.

In most cases, only spouses, registered domestic partners (in states where this is an option) and blood relatives inherit under what is called intestate succession laws. “Intestate” or “intestacy” applies to any portion of the deceased’s probate property not parceled out according to a will. Probate estate is considered property solely owned by the deceased at the time of death, and does not include property jointly owned with others or with rights of survivorship, including:

  • Proceeds from life insurance
  • Bank accounts, real estate and other assets held jointly or as community property with right of survivorship
  • Retirement plan funds in which a beneficiary was named, i.e., 401(k), IRA
  • Money in payable-on-death accounts
  • Stocks and securities held in a transfer-on-death account

Some or all of the deceased’s property may be considered intestate property, even if the person left a will. This happens when a will is declared invalid for any of the following reasons:

  • Will was never signed
  • Signed will was not properly witnessed
  • Will was made under the undue influence of another person
  • The deceased was not competent at the time the will was made.

How is intestate property handled?

If the deceased was married, the surviving spouse usually gets the largest share of property; and if there are no children, he or she is likely to receive the entire estate. More distant relatives inherit only if there is no surviving spouse or children. If no relatives can be found, the state takes control of the assets.

Plan ahead

One way to ensure your family doesn’t have to deal with intestate succession is to plan your own wishes in advance.

Published | Category: News.