Even though many people in Alabama pass away each year without any estate planning documents in place, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan for each deceased individual. The plan for these decedents, simply, is the state of Alabama’s best guess at what they would want if they did draw up a Last Will and Testament. This is referred to as the state’s intestacy laws; these laws dictate where one’s assets go among surviving family members.
What are Probate Assets?
An important thing to know is that not all assets in a decedent’s estate have to go through probate court. Probate court is where estates are settled after the owner passes away. Some assets, like life insurance policies and payable-on-death bank accounts, for example, will instead go to whichever beneficiary is listed on the form. Any assets that have been placed into a trust will also be distributed according to the terms of the document and have no need to pass through probate. Almost everything else will be settled through the procedure in probate court.
The answer to “who gets what?” all depends on the surviving family members. The surviving spouse (widow) of a decedent usually has first priority over the estate. The simplest situation would be one in which someone with no surviving siblings, children, parents, aunts, uncles, or first cousins leaves a spouse to leave the estate to. However, this rarely happens, so intestate succession (asset distribution according to state law) can get quite complicated. Here are some common scenarios:
- Surviving spouse and children: the spouse gets the first $50,000 of the estate and splits the remainder with the surviving children.
- With children but no surviving spouse: each child gets an equal share of the entire estate.
- With surviving spouse and surviving children from a previous relationship: the spouse and children split the estate equally.
- With surviving spouse and parents: the spouse gets the first $100,000 of the estate and the parents get the rest.
- With only a surviving sibling OR parent: the surviving heir gets the entirety of the estate.
Consequences of Dying Without a Will
Contrary to popular belief, the state of Alabama does not receive any of your property if you do not have a Will or any other estate planning documents in place when you pass away—only if you do not have any living heirs. Even if you do have living heirs, though, you risk your assets going to someone you’d prefer they not go to. Couples with minor children also risk having their children go to someone they’d prefer not raise them, as parents can designate successor guardians in a Will.
Not having certainty over these important matters can provide for some sleepless nights and stressful days, especially in these uncertain times. You owe it to yourself and your family to craft an estate plan that meets your goals so your loved ones are taken care of and you can live out your golden years in peace and tranquility. Call our firm today at 334-603-1353 to see how we can help.