Intestate succession is what happens to your estate if you die without leaving a will behind, which happens surprisingly often. The laws of intestate succession vary state to state, but they all give a string of individuals to whom the court will try and pass your assets.
A long-running mystery series, The Cat Who…, featured the Siamese cats of an eccentric bachelor who inherited a fortune from a little-known wealthy aunt on her death due to intestate succession. While we can’t all have rich distant relatives who die without any other family, you probably don’t want to be that person either and instead offer better control over who gains your assets.
Reasons Assets Pass by Intestate Succession
There are a number of reasons assets pass by intestate succession. The unexpected death of a child or young adult is often the cause as many people don’t even consider making a succession plan until the birth of their own children or once they start accumulating considerable assets. Often, a child or young adult will leave behind a bank account, securities, and even some property without a will to guide those left behind. Even older individuals who simply never bothered to make a will face this situation.
People may use other estate planning vehicles to transfer their assets in a way that minimizes or avoids estate tax. Assets such as jointly-held property, bank accounts, life insurance, and trusts can all have a named beneficiary and avoid probate, leaving very little to the actual probate process. In these cases, if an estate planning attorney was involved, then there should be a pour-over will or other documents to handle any assets that were not held in trust such as a car recently bought or smaller personal effects.
There are also those individuals who simply do not trust lawyers and believe that telling their family what they want, or writing it down on a piece of paper, is sufficient. This does not create a legally valid will, however, and even if everyone in the family agrees on what was said, it is not sufficient for the court to pass assets in a manner other than intestate succession.
Utah Intestate Succession
Each state’s intestate succession laws are different, though there are many similarities. In Utah, someone must outlive you by 120 hours before they can inherit, so if you and a spouse are in a car wreck and you die at the scene and they only live another day, then they are presumed to have died at the same time and are not considered in intestate succession.
The biggest complication in succession is whether or not you have children at the time of your death and whether those children are in common with your current spouse. If you and your spouse have shared children, for example, your spouse inherits everything. If you have no spouse, your children get everything. In other combinations, there is a spousal elective share and then the rest goes to the children. Finally, if there is no spouse are children, the court will then look to parents, siblings, and other relatives.
Of course, there are other wrinkles in the law of intestate succession such as the treatment of unborn children, half-relatives, and situations where there is no immediate family alive.Estate planning and organization can help ensure your loved ones don’t waste time and assets during probate and are clear on what should be done. The estate team of lawyers from Dunn Law Firm can help by understanding your full financial picture and putting in place the right trust and estate structure for your goals and family. To learn more, reach out to the Dunn Law Firm by calling (435) 628-5405 to set up a free consultation today.