Keeping Your Family Strong--Even Through Divorce

What Happens When Your Loved One Dies Without A Will

by Kristen Wright

Most people like to think that they have all the time in the world to make plans for how their belongings will be distributed when they pass. However, that is not always the case. If you just had a close family member or loved one pass away who did not have a will, here is a general overview of what will happen to their belongs or their estate.

What Is An Estate? 

Oftentimes, the word "estate" can be confusing. Many people associate the word estate with property and significant financial resources; however, you don't have to be a millionaire to leave behind an estate. Essentially, any belongings that a person leaves behind after they pass, be it $1,000 in savings and a car, or four houses and a million dollars, it all falls under the category of being someone's estate. 

What Is The Process Called That One's Estate Has To Go Through? 

When someone lacks a will when they die, their property or estate goes through a process that is known as probate. The probate process varies a little from one state to the next, but is essentially the legal process that all states follow to determine what happens to someone's estate whether or not they have a will when they pass away. 

What Is The First Step Of The Probate Process?

Since your loved one passed away without leaving behind a will, the local probate court where your loved one resided will assign someone to be what is commonly known as the administrator or personal representative for your loved one's estate. 

The court generally picks someone who would naturally inherit the estate. For example, if your husband died, you would likely be appointed the administrator. Or if your uncle died, was unmarried and had no children, either his parents, siblings or nieces or nephews would be put in-charge of his estate, generally in that order. 

What Happens After An Administrator Is Appointed? 

Once an administrator is appointed, they have multiple duties that they have to fulfill. To start with, they have to go through and figure out what outstanding expenses the deceased had, such as loans and unpaid bills. These are the first things that any money they left will go towards satisfying. 

After that, the administrator has to determine who is the natural heirs. When someone dies without a will, generally the court appoints an heir or likely heir as the administrator, so this should be a fairly straightforward process. 

After that, the administrator will work with the probate court to determine what assets each heir is entitled to. At this point in time, as an heir, you can have an attorney represent your interests in the probate process. 

If your loved one passed away without a will, their estate will have to go through the local probate courts. Your loved one's estate can still get settled even if they didn't leave behind a plan. For more information on how the probate process works, speak with a local probate attorney like those at Davis and Mathis.