03 Sep Don’t Die Intestate!
A common question we get at Phelps LaClair is, “What happens to my stuff if I die without a will?” As estate planning attorneys with 40 years of doing business in Phoenix, we know that most people think that your “stuff” automatically goes to your next of kin when you leave this world. But the reality is: it’s not that simple.
Dying without a will is legally known as dying intestate. When this happens, the estate of the deceased is turned over to a court of probate. This court will determine the value of the property, the likely heirs, the distribution of the estate’s assets, and the administration of closing the estate.
There are many famous legal battles that have been fought over estates that have entered probate. The most famous is probably over the estate of Howard Hughes who left $1.5 billion when he died intestate in 1976. He had no known direct descendents. Because of this, many distant relatives, former “wives”, and fake business partners showed up to claim the money. The estate was finally settled 34 years after his death. More recently, Aretha Franklin and Prince both died intestate and their large estates have gone through lengthy court battles.
So how does a probate court decide who gets what? The answer depends both on statutory laws and on the best judgement of the probate judge. There are several mitigating factors that affect the intestate process in Arizona: dying before your spouse, or dying without a living spouse; dying before your children, or dying without living children; dying before your parents, or dying without living parents. Each of these situations will result in a different determination.
If you die with living children, but no living spouse, the kids get it all. If you die with a living spouse and children, your spouse will inherit your estate, but only if you both are the children’s natural birth parents. When the children are yours from a previous marriage, your separate property (that which belonged only to you) is split between your present spouse and your children. Your community property is also split, but your spouse would receive no interest in the half that belongs to you. It gets very complicated with blended families because the children may be from several different spouses.
Control the Outcome of Your Estate
The important thing to remember is that without a valid will, you have no control over who gets what. Everything will go through probate and be distributed by a person who has no understanding of your wishes and no stake in your family’s future. Probate is an expensive, emotionally draining, and time consuming process. Avoiding probate is the beginning of a good estate plan.
Give us a Call!
A will brings peace of mind knowing that your heirs will receive the inheritance you have worked to provide for them. Phelps LaClair has helped thousands of families like yours to gain this peace of mind. Don’t die without a will! It is something that you and your heirs will be thankful for while you are alive and after you have gone. For all of your estate planning needs, give us a call for a free, no-obligation consultation. We can discuss your goals and plans, and design a custom solution for your family and your estate.