What Happens If You Don't Leave A Will?

In my life as a lawyer, I have met many people who have avoided creating a will, thinking that estate planning is only for the old or the very rich. They may think that they don't have much to leave to their loved ones anyway.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn't go far enough. You may not have a great amount of money or real estate to leave to your loved ones, but if you don't create a will, you could leave them a lot of unnecessary legal and financial headaches.

Understanding Estates

Under Indiana law, when a person passes away, all of his or her debts and assets — bank accounts, real estate, family heirlooms and sentimental items — become known as that person's estate. A probate court must determine how to distribute an estate.

The purpose of a will is to make your wishes known for how you want your estate to be distributed and to give those wishes legal effect. When you have a valid will, the court distributes your estate according to your wishes.

When you don't have a valid will, the court must find another way to distribute your estate, and so it turns to what is known as intestate law.

Understanding Intestate Law

In legal terms, the person who creates a will is known as a testator. A person who passes away without leaving a valid will is considered to have died intestate.

To determine how to distribute the property of a person who died intestate, Indiana courts look to the state's law of intestate succession. This means looking at the person's family tree and distributing it according to one-size-fits-all guidelines. A surviving spouse and children get first priority.

Intestate succession gets trickier if there is no surviving spouse or children. In these cases, the court must go farther out on the family tree, distributing the estate to the person's parents (if they are still living), siblings or more remote relatives. In some cases, an estate ends up going to distant relatives while close friends or stepchildren get nothing. These cases can also lead to nasty disputes between the deceased person's loved ones.

Tracking down these relatives takes the court's time and money, and that money comes out of the estate. This means your estate could be tied up in court for months, and there will be less of it to go around for any heirs.

Get Started On Your Estate Plan

Once you understand what happens to the estate of a person who does not leave a will, you can see how, even if you are not wealthy, the act of planning your estate is a great gift you can leave your loved ones. It will save them a lot of time, headaches, money and emotional difficulty.

I am attorney Abel Contreras, and I can help you with wills, trusts and other estate planning documents. I also represent clients in general litigation, family law, personal injury, landlord-tenant law and more. Call Abel Contreras Legal Services today at 317-296-6083 or contact my office by email.

I represent clients in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.