The Perils of Dying Intestate
Every person’s ultimate goal in estate planning should be to maintain control over his or her property and have his or her final wishes honored. However, when an individual dies without a will, this control is forfeited, often leading to consequences that may be far from what the decedent would have desired. This predicament is amplified for those who are single and own real estate individually, especially in states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Florida.
The Inevitability of Probate
Dying without a will is referred to as dying intestate, and the process to settle the deceased’s estate becomes significantly more complex and costly. Moreover, it is important to note that dying intestate necessitates a probate process. Probate is a legal procedure wherein the court oversees the distribution of the deceased’s assets, ensuring that all debts and taxes are paid before property is distributed.
The complexities of the probate process can be daunting, and having knowledgeable legal representation can guide the family members or beneficiaries through the entire procedure. An attorney specializing in probate matters can help identify the heirs, assist in appointing a personal representative, handle the necessary paperwork, and navigate the specific probate requirements of each state. He or she will ensure that the deceased’s assets are appropriately distributed in accordance with the intestacy laws of the respective state, minimizing the risk of disputes or delays.
Intestacy Laws and Real Estate
For a single individual owning real estate in his or her name only, dying intestate can create a particularly tangled web. This is because state laws – often referred to as intestacy laws – will determine who inherits the property. Generally, the property is divided among the deceased’s closest living relatives, typically children, parents, and siblings, but this varies from state to state.
Intestacy Succession in Massachusetts: A Complex Procedure
In Massachusetts, the probate process is notably intricate. For the estate’s personal representative (also known as an executor or administrator), he or she needs to either obtain a license to sell the real estate within one year from the date of his or her appointment, or formally close the estate after one year from the decedent’s date of death. The latter involves filing with the probate court a hardcopy Inventory, Account, and Complete Settlement and respective Decree/Order. Both these processes are time-consuming and involve significant expenses, adding to the burden on the estate and decreasing the assets left for heirs.
Intestacy Succession in New Hampshire and Florida
In contrast to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Florida do not require a license to sell or a formal closing of the estate. However, even without these requirements, probate is still necessary. In both states, intestate succession laws dictate that if the decedent is unmarried and childless, his or her parents (if alive) will inherit the entire estate. If there are no surviving parents, then the property goes to siblings or their descendants. If there are no surviving siblings, nieces, or nephews, then the estate may go to more distant relatives or even to the state in certain circumstances.
The Importance of Estate Planning
Though these states have different probate requirements, the message is clear: dying intestate as a single, real estate owner can lead to complex and costly legal proceedings, and the distribution of your property may not align with your wishes. Creating a comprehensive estate plan that includes a well-drafted will and appropriate trusts can bypass many of these difficulties. You maintain control over your estate, designate your beneficiaries, and potentially save your estate and heirs considerable time, money, and emotional distress.
Contact an Experienced Estate Planning & Probate Attorney
If you’re single, own real estate individually, and do not have a will, your estate is subject to the intestacy laws and probate procedures of your state, which can lead to unforeseen challenges for your heirs. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is a crucial step to avoid these potential pitfalls and ensure your property is distributed according to your wishes.