What Happens When a Loved One Dies Without an Estate Plan in Place?

There is one question I often hear after a parent died without any estate planning documents in place. It is: “What now?” The answer to this question varies according to the types of assets the decedent had. In this post, we look at the different types of assets and who gets what when there is no estate plan in place.

Does the Asset List a Beneficiary?

Some assets list a beneficiary. Common examples include an IRA, 401(k), and life insurance. In this case, the named beneficiary receives the asset, assuming he or she is still alive when the decedent passes.

Is the Asset Jointly Owned?

Many assets are owned by more than one person. Homes, vehicles, and bank and brokerage accounts are examples of jointly-owned assets. Assuming the second person listed on the title is still living, that person obtains full control of the asset up to the decedent’s passing. The surviving owner typically must demonstrate joint ownership. This varies according to the asset.

Joint ownership may also include “right of survivorship.” In this case, when one owner passes, the survivor must present the death certificate and Affidavit of Survivorship to the appropriate entity.

What Happens to Other Assets?

In the event there are assets that are not jointly owned or do not list a beneficiary, state statute determines what happens next.

Was the decedent married? If so, his or her spouse usually receives everything. The only difference is if the decedent had children by someone other than his or her spouse. In this case, assets may be split evenly between the surviving spouse and the decedent’s children (it depends on the asset).

Was the decedent unmarried but had children? In this case, the surviving children receive the assets. If there are no children and no spouse but one or more of the decedent’s parents still lives, then the assets go to the parent(s).

Next in line is siblings, followed by nieces and nephews. If there are no siblings, nieces, or nephews, the line of succession is cousins and then second cousins.

Can an Attorney Help?

If a loved one passes without an estate plan in place, we can help you understand your options. Fill out our contact form or call the office at (480) 497-3770 to schedule a consultation.

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