PSA: Dying intestate is a P.I.T.A.- take care of your “final arrangements”.

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
In my life, I’ve had to deal with the estates of several people, in both a personal and professional capacity. Of all the several passings, few of the people had a will. And that’s a problem.

Wills are not the only end-of-life document out there, nor is one the solution for all potential issues that may arise during an estate administration. If people want to fight, they’ll fight. But it’s a starting point; a cornerstone of even the most basic estate plan. Everyone should have one.

TO BE CLEAR: I’m an attorney in Texas, and I don’t have one. I don’t have kids, and none of my legal heirs shares my interests- IOW, nobody really wants most of my stuff. Texas’ intestacy laws would generally satisfy my testamentary intent. But I’m still working on drafting one. Why?

  1. Depending on where you live, intestacy can actually create expenses for your estate. In Texas (and other states), the executor of an intestate estate is legally required to prove the decedent had no unknown children, and that means hiring a private investigator.
  2. Wills clarify issues. They’re no panacea- people challenge will provisions all of the time or outright ignore them- but the will has legal force behind it and is admissible in court. Even before landing in court, knowing “Aunt Alice” wanted to donate her car to the Lighthouse for the Blind could prevent bickering over which of her nieces and nephews should have it.
  3. One of the first tasks in drafting wills is usually appointing an executor. Sometimes multiple contingent or co-executors. The executor performs several vital functions in managing the probate process. Estates without executors raise all kinds of problems in probate, and often, the court will appoint someone. Who this will be can become yet another source of friction between presumptive heirs.
  4. Even if you’re like me and you’re certain nobody wants most of your stuff, odds are good SOMEONE wants SOMETHING you own, even if it’s just a memento. They just may not have told you.

The death of someone close can be an emotional time, and can bring out the good or bad in people. And unfortunately, the bad can be awful. I’ve seen some cases where certain relatives looted a deceased person’s house while everyone else was at the ceremony. I’ve seen siblings jeopardizing their inheritance by round-robin squabbles over opinions that are actually not supported by law.

Wildcard: the states involved have laws that state partial owners can force sale without the consent of other owners. All they have to do is give the other owners their legal share of the proceeds of the sale. Imagine an intestacy where people are fighting over a house, and one of the heirs is contemplating initiating a forced sale so they don’t have to deal with the other heirs because they’re “sick of the BS”. I don’t have to imagine it- I’m looking at 3 of those right now in my own family. Some of the battles have been going on for decades.

Finally, another viewpoint from my old Wills & Estates professor, a spritely human being named Stanley M. Johanson. He advocated that, while wills were good, it was better to “remember” people when you’re alive. If/when you can, he advised, give them something you know they’d want you to leave them in your will. That way, you get the joy of seeing their expression. My Mom has been on both sides of that.

And of course, check out the laws in your own state or country for the info that applies to your specific situation. Ideally, with someone who deals with wills & estates regularly.
 
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Aeson

I am the mysterious professor.
I'm kinda in the same boat as you. I do have a teenage niece and nephew I'd like to leave stuff to. I don't think they'll want my gaming stuff. I'd like to liquidate the stuff and add the money to my savings and investments and create a trust for them.
 

Ryujin

Legend
I definitely need to get both a will and a living will in place. When my mother passed things went relatively smoothly, because she had time to think it all out beforehand. I don't want to leave a mess that anyone else needs to clean up. Fortunately, at least right now, I have no debts.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Talking with one of my cousins reminded me of:

5. Disinheriting someone is surprising popular. A lot of people have relatives they absolutely do not want to inherit any of their stuff. Intestacy laws don’t care. Your Dad left your Mom and had a 2nd family with the Homewrecker Hussy? Your half-siblings are potentially your heirs in the eyes of the law. Got a kid who is 1 felony away from going to jail for life, but you love your nieces & nephews? A will can cut him out of your estate while gifting something to his offspring. Same goes for skipping a generation for inheritance tax purposes (not a common problem, but…. ).

6. Leaving things to charities is something a lot of us think about, but intestacy laws don’t address that option at all. So if you’re a charitably minded person, you absolutely should use a will to ensure your faves get taken care of.
 

Aeson

I am the mysterious professor.
Point 5 is a good one. I'm estranged from my older half sisters and their adult spawn. My IRAs and brokerage account have places to add beneficiaries. Is that enough? Can I just add my youngest niece and nephew to the beneficiaries?
 

It's also good, where feasible, to actually tell probable heirs what your intentions are, as well as getting them in a will, especially if you plan to disinherit someone who might feel entitled to something. It both makes it harder to challenge the will if it was consistent with intentions people were familiar with you having, and it generally saves on unwanted surprises at an emotional time.

Wills are not a good venue for grand, unnecessary, dramatic twists, despite what movies would have you believe.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Point 5 is a good one. I'm estranged from my older half sisters and their adult spawn. My IRAs and brokerage account have places to add beneficiaries. Is that enough? Can I just add my youngest niece and nephew to the beneficiaries?
The beneficiary designations in a document like a IRA, brokerage account, insurance policy, etc. actually trumps a will by keeping the covered assets out of a will. You can, of course, use those same designations to include the assets in your will, or a trust, or whatever.
 

MGibster

Legend
I'm going to piggy back on the PSA and talk about life insurance. For new employee orientation, I talk to our new hires about their options for additional life and accidental death & dismemberment insurance. As an employee, they're all automatically enrolled in a basic life and an AD&D plan that covers them at twice their base salary at no charge to them. But they have have an option for voluntary group term life inusrance and AD&D for additional coverage.

A lot of younger people think, "Well, the basic life that cost me nothing and covers me at $110,000, that's plenty." Maybe if you're single, but it's not enough if you have a family. That $110,000 might cover your family for the short term but you've got to consider where they're going to be 3, 5, or even 7 years after you're gone. Do they have a place to live? Are your children's educational needs being met? What about their basic needs? Consider getting a decent life insurance policy based on the needs of your family without you in the picture.

Oh, and take care of your estate planning. It's a pain the ass for your loved ones having to deal with your loss in addition to trying to figure out what to do with your property. Nobody in my family is going to want my Warhammer 40k collection or my RPG books, unless my nieces turn out to be huge nerds, and I should really plan for that.
 

edosan

Adventurer
My mother didn’t know it would be the last year of her life but she spent a lot of time getting her affairs in order and sitting me down and talking me through it all. It was still a PITA to get everything straightened out but nowhere near as bad if she hadn’t done that.

My goal is to make my estate even easier to deal with when I’m gone.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
I'm kinda in the same boat as you. I do have a teenage niece and nephew I'd like to leave stuff to. I don't think they'll want my gaming stuff. I'd like to liquidate the stuff and add the money to my savings and investments and create a trust for them.
Obviously, you need to talk to a local pro for details, but one of my favorite trusts is something that used to be called a “Health, Education and Welfare“ (HEW) Trust. (They’ve got a different name now, but it escapes me.) Assets in HEW trusts can ONLY be used for expenses that fall into one of those named categories. As such, it’s a great way to leave someone a sizable trust that is protected from a lot of actions that might otherwise go after those funds.

The courts can be expansive about those categories, especially the last one, but anyone making a claim against the trust beneficiaries will be barred from going after trust assets if the court thinks they don’t qualify. So the trustee can order disbursements for a medical procedure, for tuition, or a car to go to work (even a fancy one), but someone suing the trustees for injuries in a car accident would be barred from going after trust assets.

It also protects the trust assets from the bad decisions of the trust beneficiaries. Barring fraud or exotic circumstances, they can’t use it for collateral; for investment in dodgy business deals; for wild shopping sprees. They can’t gamble it away.
 

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