For all your life and estate planning,
administration and guardianship needs

What happens to an estate if there is no will?

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2022 | Estate Administration

A huge number of people in Indiana do not have a will or any other estate planning document. Indiana is not unique in this. Earlier this year, researchers found that as many as 67% of Americans said they had no estate plan. This is a mistake.

Intestate succession

When a person dies, all the assets they solely owned at the time of their death are known as their estate. If they leave behind a valid will, the will dictates how their estate will be distributed. The person who serves as their personal representative will settle the estate, pay off any remaining taxes or debts through the estate and distribute the remainder as directed by the will.

Without a will to direct this process, the estate must be distributed according to Indiana’s law of intestate succession. This involves looking up the deceased person’s family tree and distributing the estate according to a one-size-fits-all formula. A surviving spouse typically receives the bulk of the estate, but things can get very tricky in cases of blended families. For instance, if the deceased had a child with a previous partner, the surviving spouse gets half the estate, plus some part of the deceased’s real estate.

It’s easy to see how these laws can lead to results that the deceased would have found unfair. Sometimes a distant relative inherits a fortune while a close companion gets nothing. Sometimes, beloved stepchildren are shut out while estranged children inherit everything.

But even in relatively straightforward cases, distributing an estate through the law of intestate succession takes a lot of time in court. The legal fees come out of the estate, leaving less to go to the intended beneficiaries.

Help with estate administration

The truth is that estate administration can be difficult even in a relatively straightforward case. Even when the deceased left a valid will and other estate planning documents, the personal representative must take care of many details and requirements. Experienced lawyers can offer advice on how to proceed.