What happens if someone dies without a will?

| May 18, 2021 | estate planning |

Perhaps the best way to explain why creating a will is important is to explain what happens when a person dies without one.

Here, we need to use some legal terminology. The legal term for a person who leaves a will is “testator.” A person who has died with a will in place is said to have died testate. If they died without a will they died intestate.

When a person dies, whether testate or intestate, all their remaining property — assets and debts — are known as their estate. Probate administration is the legal process of paying any debts and distribution any assets.

The law of intestate succession

If the person dies intestate, a probate court takes care of this administration. Typically, the court appoints a personal representative for the deceased to go through the work of administering the estate. This means, after taking care of any debts, the personal representative and the court distribute any remaining assets to the deceased person’s family members according to the Illinois law of intestate succession.

This law follows a somewhat complex formula for tracking down relatives on the deceased person’s family tree and distributing the assets to them. In some cases this can lead to results that are very different from what the deceased person would have wanted. It can sometimes mean a distant relative inherits everything while the deceased person’s longtime companion gets nothing.

Saving money, preventing headaches

Even in fairly straightforward cases of intestate succession, the whole process takes a lot of the court’s time. That time costs money, and the money comes out of the assets of the estate. This, of course, reduces the assets that will go to the heirs.

Compared to probate with a will, probate without one typically takes longer, costs more and leads to more frustration among the deceased person’s loved ones. This is why a person leaves a great gift for their loved ones when they create a will even if they aren’t particularly wealthy.

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