Estate planning is an important task to get out of the way when you’re young, so in the case of an unexpected event, your family is prepared and does not have to deal with additional stresses regarding your belongings and unsettled affairs.
If in the unfortunate case someone passes away without a will, or with a will that is invalid for some reason, the state steps in and starts a process called intestate succession. The state will make a few decisions regarding the next steps of the probate process and make a list of eligible people that can take the role of executor. This is often the surviving spouse or adult children, and then other family members are next on the list.
Who Receives Assets?
Many times in intestate, only spouses and blood relatives inherit the assets, leaving out friends, charities, and unmarried partners. If there are no children, there are times that the spouse receives everything. If there are absolutely no relatives, the state takes everything.
There are situations that do not allow certain relatives to inherit assets. For example, if a sibling criminally caused harm, or even death, to the person who died without a will, they generally do not inherit anything. As well, if a child dies who was abandoned or not supported by their parent, or there are recorded crimes committed against the child, that parent will not inherit anything from the child.
For a surviving spouse to be eligible to inherit the assets of the deceased, they must have been legally married. If there is a legal separation or pending divorce, this is a situation the judge may have to rule on. Some states recognize common-law marriages, but you will have to check with your state to be sure. Same-sex marriages present some confusion in these cases, but if you’re living in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, this should not be an issue.
Prepare Your Estate
It is ideal to have your estate put in place early on and make changes through the years as needed. So, if the time comes that something happens to you, your family knows what your wishes are and how to distribute your assets. It’s even more beneficial if you set up a living trust to transfer ownership of the majority of your belongings, so the named beneficiaries of the trust can take possession without any questions or needing to go through a lengthy and costly probate court. Speak with an estate planning attorney to prepare your estate in the most beneficial way for your unique situation.