After their dad’s funeral, Matthew and Phillip began discussing his estate with Estelle, their stepmother. They were stunned to learn that their dad, Martin, had died without a Will or any other estate planning. As Estelle, Matthew, and Phillip faced life without Martin, they also had to struggle with questions about how to divide his assets.
When someone who has prepared a Will passes away, the terms of the Will dictate distribution of their estate assets and debts. However, an individual who has not prepared a Will has left his or her family without the guidance a Will offers.
Alabama state laws do address this type of situation through intestacy laws that regulate how an intestate person’s assets will be divided.
Beneficiaries and Co-Owners
It is important to remember that not all property becomes part of the probate estate. Financial and investment accounts usually allow account holders to name beneficiary designations. Funds in the account will transfer to the beneficiaries upon the accountholder’s death. Failing to leave a Will may not matter here because beneficiary designations usually trump a Will.
Joint ownership of property can also matter when it comes time to handle someone’s estate. For example, jointly owned real property may pass directly to the surviving owner. However, property may also pass to the deceased owner’s estate, so it is best to include property ownership in your estate plan.
Property distribution can be fairly straightforward when the decedent has been married only once. The surviving spouse would receive the entire estate if the decedent left no children. However, in certain situations, the spouse receives:
- First $100,000, then half of the remaining estate when there are no children, but parents of deceased are alive.
- First $50,000 then one-half of the balance of the estate when decedent and surviving spouse had children.
- One-half of the estate goes to the surviving spouse when the decedent has children from another relationship.
Children and Other Heirs
When someone with children dies without leaving a Will, property distribution depends partly on the decedent’s marital status. As noted in the previous section, the spouse receives the first part of the estate. Children generally receive a portion of estates worth more than $50,000 if the surviving spouse is their parent also.
However, when the surviving spouse is not their parent, one-half of the estate may be divided between the children.
Where no spouse or children survive, the estate is split equally between the decedent’s parents. If no parents survive, then the estate is split between the decedent’s siblings. Grandparents or children of grandparents may end up with part of the estate when a spouse, children, parents, or siblings do not survive the decedent.
Dying Without a Will Complicates Matters
If you died without a Will, the sad part is that you have no say about who receives your property. For example, an estranged parent may receive part of their child’s estate if he or she dies without a Will.
An experienced Alabama attorney like Bruce Adams can help you develop an estate plan that works for your situation. He also handles probate for clients like you.
Please contact Bruce at 256-237-3339 to set up an appointment or use our convenient Contact Form. Our office is located in Anniston, Alabama, but we assist clients in surrounding Calhoun, Cleburne, Etowah, and St. Clair Counties.