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Posted: 02/28/2017 Posted by:

What Happens When a Parent or Loved One Dies Without a Will?

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When a parent or grandparent dies, financial issues are seldom the first thing that comes to mind. Unfortunately, they are some of the most important issues to work out. Not only do the parent or grandparent’s final costs need to be addressed, but there also may be financial instruments such as mortgage loans, vehicle loans, and other obligations that must be sorted out. If the Family Member in question has died without a Last Will, this objective becomes even more of a challenge.

Appointing an Administrator

Dying without a Last Will is known as dying “Intestate.” Without a Last Will, there is no known Executor. Instead, someone will need to apply to be appointed by the court as the Administrator of the Estate of the deceased Family Member. An Administrator becomes responsible for resolving existing debts, and partitioning out the remaining assets and properties of the Decedent. Once an individual applies to become an Administrator, they can be granted administration rights – unless someone else contests the request. When an appointment is contested, the Court will generally follow priority, based upon the family relationship of each individual to the Deceased Individual.
A surviving spouse (or civil union partner) will have first priority. After this relationship, the inquiry
passes to children, then surviving parents, then brothers and sisters, and then grandparents. After this extended inquiry, the responsibility will then fall to either aunts and uncles, or nieces and nephews.

Resolving Outstanding Debts

Once an appointee has been assigned, debts first need to be resolved. Unsecured debts (such as personal loans and credit card debt) will need to be addressed through the estate itself, either with cash from the estate or by selling estate assets. Homes and cars, on the other hand, may be able to be taken over by a surviving spouse if that spouse is already listed on the ownership documentation. It is the responsibility of the appointee to ensure that all creditors have been satisfied, before they begin distributing the assets of the estate.

Distributing the Estate

With a Last Will, an individual is able to control which person inherits particular property or assets. Without a Will, however, the estate is distributed by default. There are specific rules which govern how all of the property will be distributed. In general, if there is a surviving spouse and no children, they will get the entirety of the estate. If there is a surviving spouse and children, the surviving spouse will usually get the bulk of the estate, while the children will get a portion. Blended families make the determination even more complicated!

When a parent or grandparent dies, it is likely that their spouse is going to receive the majority of their estate. But if they do not have a spouse, the estate will then default to their children. (Those who pass on without a spouse or without children will generally have their estate given to their parents. Failing this distribution, the estate may be split among brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, or surviving grandparents.) There may be special rules about domestic partnerships.

When a parent or grandparent dies without a Last Will in place, it puts an extraordinary burden on their Family, and can make issues of inheritance very confusing. For that reason, it’s absolutely essential that those with families be certain to plan for the future as early as possible. Whether you need to make your own Last Will or need help getting through the Probate Process, Covelli Law Offices provides complete estate planning and estate settlement services. Contact Covelli Law Offices today to schedule your consultation.