Some people take a wait-and-see approach. They procrastinate because they think that they can act later on. And they reason that things will probably take care of themselves if they never take action. This enters the realm of estate planning, and as a result, some people fail to create a last will.
In reality, the outcome probably would not be consistent with your wishes if you pass away without a last will. There are laws in place for distribution of your estate, but the way that “things take care of themselves” may not be to your liking.
The Probate Process
The probate court would be forced to take over if you were to pass away without a last will or any other estate planning documents expressing your wishes regarding the distribution of your personally held property. This is a time-consuming process under any circumstances, and it is further complicated when there is no last will.
A personal representative would be appointed by the court to handle the estate administration tasks. This in itself is not necessarily a positive, because the person who is appointed by the court to administer the estate may not be someone that you would have appointed.
In some families, there are competing interests that can enter the picture. The personal representative may not be entirely objective.
This certainly came into play during the case of football star Steve McNair, who died without a will or any other estate plan. His surviving spouse was named as the personal representative, and some of her actions negatively impacted his mother.
During probate, final debts would be paid out of the assets that were left behind, and this would be the first order of business for the personal representative. Ultimately, the remaining assets would be distributed to the heirs to the estate using the intestate succession laws of the state.
Each state has slightly different laws, and we practice in North Carolina and Kentucky. To use Kentucky laws as an example, let’s say that you died without any estate planning documents.
You were married, and you had one child from that marriage and no others. Your spouse relied on you for support, and your son, who is 21 years of age, is not a good money manager.
Under the intestate succession laws of the state of Kentucky, your surviving spouse would inherit half of your probate assets, and your son would inherit the other half. Your failure to act would put your spouse in a very difficult position.
There is no reason to go through life without a last will. Our firm offers free consultations, and we can help you put a solid estate plan in place. Send us a message through this page to set up an appointment: Ashland KY Estate Planning Attorneys.