I do not have to remind you of my female neighbour whose husband died without leaving a will. It was embarrassing, to say the least, seeing her and the young children being thrown out of the house. She had to pay a lawyer to represent her and get the house back. This could have been money saved if only the hubby had left a will.
Well, I am no technical authority on this subject matter, but nevertheless knowledgeable enough to express the significance of a will. If a person dies without a will or a will turns out to be invalid, two things can happen—this I got from a lawyer friend. By the way, I like the pride lawyers have—they are the only ‘learned’ out of all the professions in the world—and they try to behave as such mostly.
The first and more preferrable scenario, if you die without a will, is that all of a deceased’s assets are split up in an orderly fashion by those closest to the deceased. Common ways that this may happen automatically are when assets have a right of survivorship feature (e.g., checking accounts and jointly owned real estate) or when the assets name beneficiaries (e.g. retirement plans and life insurance policies).
Less formally, the distribution of assets occurs when relatives decide who gets what and throw out the rest—this may sound funny to the knowledgeable but it is happening all the time, especially in rural areas where the ‘illiterate’ hardly know of any legal recourse.
The second way assets get distributed when a person dies without a will is according to the default rules of the State. Deciding not to have a will is effectively the same as letting the State decide who gets your assets after your death. The State rules are generically referred to as intestate succession laws, and they can really stink sometimes for those caught unawares.
The good thing about intestate succession laws is that they usually mirror the deceased’s wishes anyway. For example, a surviving spouse is usually first in line to inherit, followed by close relatives such as children, parents, and siblings.
The bad thing about dying intestate (other than the dying itself, of course) is that a State’s default rules may not go far enough to meet a deceased’s distribution wishes. For example, although a surviving spouse is generally first in line to inherit, the spouse may end up having to share the estate with other relatives of the deceased who may not be deserving—in other words, may not have got anything if the deceased were alive.
Also, if you are not on the list of potential heirs, then you are out of luck (which may result in excluding a ‘life partner’, life-long friend, or favourite charity). The final indignity is that, if there are no relatives of the deceased available, the State ends up with the assets the deceased spent a lifetime acquiring.
Have a blessed weekend as you finally excuse yourself from your friends so you can go and write your will!