The fact that death is inevitable doesn’t make it any easier for the bereaved. The pain of losing a loved one is unlike anything a person can experience in life. It gets even harder when the deceased left without a will. Everyone has an appointment with death, but it’s unclear of the time, date, and place. These are all the more reasons to write a will to ensure that your loved ones can share in your estate peacefully.
Intestate deaths or deaths that occur before a person writes a will are common and so are the injustices faced by the bereaving family members when a loved one dies without a will. While succession laws may differ from state to state, it seems that these dynamics don’t interfere with the procedures followed thereafter. Nonetheless, you can still expect questions to be asked and sometimes life can become much harder for the grief-stricken family members. But what do you do if you fall victim to this situation?
To help you out, here’s what to do if your loved one left without a will.
While the above header can sound like a misplaced statement, there’s some sense in it. Amidst the pain and grief of losing a loved one, it’s a situation that brings with it a lot of confusion. Dealing with legal matters at such a time can seem like adding insult to the wound and additional problems at a time when the family needs to be coping with the death of their loved one.
When there’s no will in place, it gets difficult to determine where to start. The process becomes even more complicated considering the various procedures involved. Not to worry though, an experienced estate planning attorney in your local area can help to bring relief in such a situation. However, not all probate lawyers are equal and if you're interested in finding an estate planning attorney in Johns Creek, Atlanta, GA, for instance, it’s important to look for one who will help you understand the Probate process according to James Bird from Estate Law Centre. Other important considerations may include the attorney’s experience, reputation, and considerable pricing. Before you start scouting for the best estate law firm, you also need to know of some assets that are independent of a will, which may include:
- Life insurance proceeds that have a designated beneficiary/s
- Retirement plan proceeds with a beneficiary
- Joint tenancy properties
- Bonds and stocks that are held in a beneficiary
- Properties in a living trust
These assets are not to be included in a will and it won’t matter whether the deceased left a will or not. This is because the proceeds from these assets will automatically go to the intended beneficiary, usually a spouse or minor children.
When there is no will, it means that there’s no executor. The executor is legally responsible for managing and distributing the assets as per the deceased individual’s wishes. In many states, the state laws will provide a list of candidates who are eligible to take on the executor’s role. These laws are based on priority and the surviving spouse will be the first choice while the adult children get second on the list. However, before taking up the role of an executor, you want to ensure that you’re prepared for the role because it’s not a mandatory requirement, and this means that you don’t need to feel obligated unless it’s what you want to do. Among factors that can prevent you from becoming an executor include the complex nature of the executor’s role and personal factors. The probate court may find it necessary to appoint someone else in your stead if you decline the offer.
When there’s no will, the state laws will determine who gets what. The order of assets distribution according to different state laws will be on a priority basis. This means that the surviving spouse is the first choice, followed by the deceased’s children. According to inheritance law, blood relatives or distant relatives may also inherit the property, but only when there are no children or a surviving spouse. The probate court will distribute the assets on the same priority basis. However, for underage children, assets can be entrusted into a trust until they are of age.
When a loved one dies without a will, different state laws will determine how the assets are distributed. Considering the various challenges being faced by the family, it’s important that you hire an estate attorney. An estate attorney will help you to file probate, inform you of your rights, help to preserve the legal remedies you might have, and conduct searches to identify assets and liabilities. In addition to this, you’ll also need an estate attorney when transferring the in inheritance into your name and when there are succession conflicts or debts to be paid.
Now, as you can see, a will is an important document as it helps the family share your wealth harmoniously. You’ll need an estate attorney when creating one to prevent the heartaches that come with leaving without a will. The above pointers are clear guidelines on what is expected of you when your loved one left without a will.