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What does it mean to die intestate?

On Behalf of | Jun 26, 2023 | Estate Planning |

When an individual passes away without leaving behind a will, the legal term for this scenario is dying intestate. Dying intestate can result in numerous complications regarding how the deceased’s assets and property get divided among surviving loved ones. A significant downside to this “approach” is that the deceased doesn’t have a say in how their assets are distributed.

Without a will, intestacy laws automatically step in to manage the deceased’s estate. These laws typically favor someone’s closest living relatives. A surviving spouse, for instance, is generally entitled to the bulk of the estate or, in some cases, the entire estate. The estate is often distributed among the spouse and the children if there are surviving children.

No immediate family members

When no immediate family members are left to receive assets, intestacy laws usually dictate that the estate gets distributed to more distant relatives, such as cousins, uncles, aunts or the offspring of these relatives. When no living relatives can be traced, the deceased’s estate usually reverts to the state, a process known as escheat.

The probate process

A death without a will in place necessitates probate, a court-supervised process. Probate can be long, complex and potentially costly. It involves determining the estate’s value, settling outstanding debts and taxes and distributing the remaining assets per the state’s intestacy laws.

Guardianship issues

The lack of a will can complicate guardianship issues, particularly when the deceased has left minor children behind. Without a will appointing a guardian, the court has to make this decision, hoping to choose a family member or a close friend willing and capable of caring for the children.

Dying without a will in place can make things more difficult for your family members when they’re already going through a lot. Instead of taking the chance that your estate will be distributed in a way that’s not what you want, you can set up a comprehensive estate plan. Explaining your wishes and considering your available options can help you determine the most effective way to handle your estate plan.