We have been hit hard in the last three years with the loss of musical icons. In 2016, we lost Prince. In 2017, it was Tom Petty. Now we have lost the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. There are no words to sufficiently describe the impact of this loss. Aretha is, and always will be, a national treasure. But in recent days we have learned, just as with Prince, Aretha died without a last will and testament. Most adults understand what a testamentary will does but some of you youngsters out there may benefit from an explanation of why dying without a will can be a big deal. A last will and testament allows a person to determine how he or she wishes for their assets to be distributed after death. It can include additional provisions, but the directive as to who will inherit your assets is the primary function of a last will and testament.
What Happens If You Die Without a Will?
If you die without a last will and testament, your assets will be transferred to your heirs per the intestacy succession laws of your state of residence. Boy that’s a mouth full. But it simply means this: at your death your stuff has to go somewhere. If you did not execute a will to say where you want your assets to go, then the state will step in and do it for you. These state laws are known as the Intestacy Succession Law. For example, in Alabama if you die and have a spouse and children with that spouse, then your spouse will receive the first $50,000 of your estate and any remaining assets in your estate would be divided 50% to your spouse and 50% to your children. As shown above, if you had desired your spouse to receive the entirety of your estate at your death, then you would be out of luck if you had not made a will specifying that result. Here is a helpful chart for Alabama Intestacy Law. Intestacy laws will vary from state to state so be sure to research the laws in your state to understand what will happen if you die without a will.
What If I Don’t Own Much Property – Do I Still Need a Will?
YES! You may think if you do not own any real estate or any other high valued assets that you do not need a last will and testament. This is not true. Let me give you an example: You die without a will and you have a bank account solely in your name with $2,000.00 in the account. If you do not have a will , your family will have to file a petition with the court to administer your estate in order to obtain the necessary court order required by the bank to release the $2,000.00 from your account. The cost to administer your estate will be far greater than a petition to probate your will. For example, the person who is petitioning to administer your estate will have to apply for and pay money for a bond to insure their faithful execution of the administration of your estate. Whereas if you had a will, this bond requirement could be waived. The bond itself is not easy to obtain. Most bonding companies will now run a credit check on the person applying for the administrator’s bond. If the bonding company does not like what they see on the credit report, the bond will be denied. The bond will also cost money to obtain. In addition, the person petitioning to administer your estate will have to inventory your estate and file that inventory with the court. Just as with the bond, this requirement can be waived in a last will and testament.
If you are located in Alabama, Mississippi or Tennessee, please contact one of our locations nearest you for a free, confidential consultation with one of our experienced, licensed attorneys regarding a last will and testament.
Carla M. Handy is the Managing Partner of the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Gadsden and Anniston, Alabama. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Auburn University, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law. She has been helping families navigate consumer bankruptcy cases since 1994.Read her full bio here.