If you pass away without any type of an estate plan – including a will – then any property that’s in your name at the time of your death will have to go through probate before it can be transferred to your heirs.
The probate process if you die without a will, also known as dying intestate, is a little different than the probate process if you pass away and leave a valid will.
When you die intestate, the first thing that happens is that the court will appoint an administrator, or personal representative, to handle the distribution of your property. Usually, a member of your family or another loved one petitions the probate court, asking to be appointed administrator of your estate. This individual may or may not have been the individual you would have chosen. And, on occasion, family members disagree over who should become administrator – this only stretches out the probate process.
Once the administrator is appointed, he or she is responsible for identifying and securing all of your assets. Your administrator will pay the valid debts of your estate, and any taxes that are due. After these items are paid, the rest of your estate goes to your heirs. State law determines who your heirs are – generally, it’s the family members most closely related to you. And, these are not always the people you’d choose to inherit your property.
Without a will, you have no say over who your personal representative is, nor do you have any say over who ultimately inherits your property – or how much of your property they inherit. And, if you own property in more than one state, then you’ll end up with property being probated in each state where it’s owned. With every state having different inheritance laws, this could mean several different sets of heirs inheriting your property, leading to a process that’s not only expensive and time consuming, but incredibly confusing as well.
The way to avoid this situation? Put an estate plan in place.