The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has discussed many issues that arise in connection with intestacy. When a person is said to have died intestate it means that his or her estate is to be distributed without the benefit of a Last Will. The relevant local laws of intestacy determine which persons (i.e., next of kin) are to inherit the decedent’s estate.
An intestate estate can arise when a person does not execute a Last Will prior to death. It can also occur when a person purportedly signs a Will but the Will is lost or there is a Will Contest litigation and the document is not admitted to probate.
The recent untimely death of Amy Winehouse is a typical example of someone who did not prepare a Last Will. When there is no Will, the intestacy laws of a person’s domicile or primary home determine who is to inherit. In Ms. Winehouse’s case, the laws of Great Britain provided that her parents were to inherit her estate. Ms. Winehouse was not married and had no children at the time of her death.
Without having a Last Will, a person cannot control who is to inherit estate assets. Although creating joint accounts and naming beneficiaries for retirement funds, life insurance and other assets can help avoid the effect of intestacy laws, any assets held by a decedent in his or her own name alone are subject to the statutes. Unfortunately, the beneficiaries selected by the controlling laws may not be the persons the decedent wanted to receive their estate.
Not only do intestacy laws dictate who is to receive estate assets, the decedent is forced to forego any possibility of estate planning for tax savings. Ms. Winehouse’s estate value was in excess of $6 million and may have benefited from estate planning. Without pre-planning by a Last Will or Trust documents valuable credits for estate tax protection may be lost that can benefit younger generations. Additionally, a person who does not have a Last Will cannot select Executors, Trustees and Guardians. Once again, the local laws governing intestacy determine the persons who can hold estate positions such as an Estate Administrator.
Preparing a Last Will and other estate planning papers such as a Living Will and Health Care Proxy are important. Statutes controlling intestate estates should be avoided along with their unintended results.