Intestate Succession

05/28/2013

It was recently reported in Forbes that over 2 million Americans die each year without a Will. If a person dies without a Will (or other type of estate planning document such as a Revocable Living Trust), that person is referred to as dying intestate and that person's property is left by intestate succession.  

The laws of intestate succession vary from state to state.  The intestate succession rules are really default distribution rules and these rules may or may not result in your property being distributed in the way you want.  Typically a portion of the property will go to a surviving spouse and the balance will be left to children.  Parents and siblings of the intestate may also be entitled to a share, depending on what relatives are alive at the time.  If no relatives can be found, the property generally goes to the state.

The problem with intestate succession is it may not apply to your circumstances.  Richard Blum, a Holocaust survivor and New York real estate developer appears to be one such example.  Mr. Blum was around 97 when he died.  He outlived his children and no other siblings or relatives can be found.  This means his estate may end up going to the state of New York.

Some might say, if we have no family or relatives, then why not give it to the state. Others may prefer to help friends, caregivers, a charity or other "non-traditional" family members (like a same-sex partner).  If you have a preference of how you want your property to be disposed of at death and not leave it up to chance, the only real way to ensure this is by preparing an estate plan.