In today’s world of advanced hospitals, elaborate safety measures, and increased public awareness, most deaths are not sudden or unexpected. While knowledge of fading life may be difficult for family members and, indeed, the individual, it does provide time for the person to get his or her last affairs in order. This particularly includes a will or trust, which will determine what happens to the person’s estate after he or she is gone. But what happens if the person didn’t leave a will? Maybe there was no time, maybe they were not aware of the need of a will, or maybe it was never officially recognized, but for whatever reason, there is no legal document to direct the distribution of the decedent’s estate, so what happens next?
In most states, the spouse of the deceased has precedence over other heirs and will inherit the family home. The spouse usually also inherits a large portion of the decedent’s estate, though some portion will go to the children of the deceased. If there is no surviving spouse, the estate will most likely be divided equally among the children of the deceased. This in itself can be tricky, as the definitions of “spouse” and “children” are different in different states, but in general, any person who was legally married to the deceased at time of death is considered a “surviving spouse,” and any person who was biologically begotten of the deceased is considered a “child.”
It is also worth noting that many quantities may have been held communally, or in a transfer-on-death account, such as back accounts, stocks or other securities, and some real estate or vehicles. These commodities will be passed to the person named in the transfer-on-death account, or to the person with right of survivorship.
The legal proceedings of inheritance, especially in cases without a valid will, are much more complicated than a few paragraphs can express, so contact us for help with estate planning or litigation.