What happens if you die without an estate plan?

Creating an estate plan is not an easy subject to broach, especially with someone who is young and healthy. Human nature allows us to always think we have time. Unfortunately, life is unpredictable, and as such, people can be caught off guard and die without ever executing even a simple will. If that is the case and you die without an estate plan (intestate), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will determine how your assets are distributed.

Given the aforementioned, the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) sets forth the procedure for administering an intestate estate. Before assets can be distributed, a petition must be filed in the probate court of the county in which the deceased resided, along with a request for an administration. This can be formal or informal. The court then appoints an administrator or personal representative to identify and gather the assets and liabilities of the estate and report them to the court, sometimes referred to as an accounting. This process can be very lengthy and costly. The court may also direct the personal representative to sell real property, wind up any business concerns, pay final debts, and file final income and estate tax returns.  The ultimate cost will depend upon how much work the personal representative must perform to administer the estate.

Once the final accounting is complete, the MUPC establishes the parameters for distribution of the intestate estate’s assets. The decedent’s surviving spouse has priority under the MUPC.The decedent’s surviving spouse takes the entire estate when the decedent has no surviving children or surviving parents. Additionally, if the decedent left surviving children who are also children of the surviving spouse, then the spouse will get the entire share. Lastly, the surviving spouse will get the entire share if the surviving spouse’s children (the decedent’s step-children) do not survive the decedent.

A surviving spouse’s share can be reduced if the decedent had other family members. The surviving spouse’s share will be reduced if the decedent had surviving parents, but no children. In that case, the surviving spouse will take the first $200,000, plus 3/4 of the balance of the estate. The remainder will go to the decedent’s surviving parents. The surviving spouse’s share will be $100,000, plus 1/2 of the remaining balance if all of the decedent’s children are children of the surviving spouse and the surviving spouse has at least one child that is not also a child of the decedent. The surviving spouse will be awarded the same amount if the decedent has at least one child who is not a child of the surviving spouse.

If the decedent dies without leaving a spouse, the decedent’s descendants get first priority. Next, if there are no children or grandchildren, then the surviving parents have priority. If there are no surviving parents, then the decedent’s siblings get priority. If the decedent dies without siblings, then the next of kin will get priority.

Troy Sullivan, Massachusetts Estate Planning Attorney

A Knowledgeable Estate Planning Attorney Can Help Avoid Unintended Results

Attorney Troy Sullivan, an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning on Boston’s North Shore, can help you avoid the unintended results, and potentially exorbitant costs to your family, of dying intestate. Call The Sullivan Firm, P.C. today at (978) 325-2721 to learn how careful estate planning can expedite or even avoid probate and dispose of your estate in the manner in which you want.