What Happens if Someone Passes Away Without an Estate Plan?

Estate Planning 14If you have an aging parent or other close loved one it can be uncomfortable to talk about the eventuality of their death. For many people, this discomfort results in people dying without having properly conveyed their wishes regarding what they want to happen when they are gone. This is done through a process known as estate planning and can help ensure their final wishes are honored, while also making the entire process easier on their loved ones. Understanding what will happen if someone passes away without an estate plan can help illustrate why it is such an important process.

Entering Probate Court

Whenever someone passes away, their estate may have to go through probate court. This can be avoided through good estate planning and the use of legal trusts. When a loved one dies without these documents in place, the family will have to enter probate court to determine what will happen to the assets within the estate. The courts will attempt to use the estate to pay any final expenses and debts, then distribute the assets.

An Executor Will Be Named

The court will appoint someone to be the executor of the estate. This is often going to be a surviving spouse, adult child, or other close family members. The executor will be responsible for identifying the assets in the estate, determining their value, and taking care of them until they can be liquidated or distributed to heirs. This task can be quite time consuming and difficult in many cases, so if you are asked to be an executor of an estate, make sure you really think it through and talk to an attorney before accepting this role.

 Assets with Named Beneficiaries

Some assets will automatically go to specific people. For example, any asset that has a named beneficiary will go to the person named. This is the normal situation for things like retirement accounts, life insurance policies, jointly owned property, and more. In most situations, these are the easiest assets to distribute since their destination is clear.

 Who Gets What?

All other assets will need to be split up among the heirs. If there is no Will at all, the courts will go through what is known as the basic rules of intestate succession. This simply means it will start with those who are typically considered the closest family members, and then move further out until someone is found.

In most cases, the spouse will be the first to be named as the heir. If there is no spouse, surviving children will usually be the next in line. The courts, working with the executor, will determine how the estate is split up among children if there are more than one. When children aren’t an option, siblings will come next, and then parents. If an heir still can’t be found, the courts continue to move through more and more distant relatives until someone is named heir.


Talk to an Attorney

If you have had a loved one pass away without an estate plan recently, it is a good idea to have an attorney who you can work with to ensure you get what you are entitled to. If you are asked to serve as executor, this is even more important. Please contact Proactive Legal Care [Link to CONTACT US page] to schedule a consultation and get the help you need during this difficult time.

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