Intestate Succession: passing away without a Will.

For your family’s sake, have a Will.

I have a brother-in-law who comes up to me each year at our family reunion and says: “I have never been to an attorney’s office, and I am never going to go to one.” Finally, after hearing his chide for several years, I replied: “That’s great for you, but you’re going to leave your children a big mess.”

It is a common scenario for a parent to pass away without doing any planning. They may have one child on their bank account and another on the title to their car. They haven’t designated anyone to act as their personal representative, and they haven’t indicated to whom they want items of personal property to go to. Frequently, they have a mortgage on their house, credit card bills and have not done anything to pay for a funeral, leaving the burden on their children to figure all of this out.

When a person dies without a Will, it is known as intestate succession. If he or she is the last surviving parent, each of the children has an equal right to serve as the personal representative of their parent’s estate. The personal representative has the duty to inventory their parent’s property, to pay all creditors and to divide the remaining estate—according to the intestate laws, not the person’s wishes—equally among the heirs.

In this process, things do not always go smoothly. For example, children frequently say that Mom had verbally told them they could have an item of personal property. However, since it was not written in the Will in the Tangible Personal Property List, Mom’s verbal commitment is unenforceable. The children are left trying to negotiate what is a fair division of family heirlooms and other items of personal property.

Additionally, the daughter with her name on the bank account can withdraw the money in the account since she was a joint tenant on the account with a right of survivorship. A son, with his name on the car title can transfer the title to himself. Was that the parent’s intent?

Finally, are there sufficient assets in the estate to pay off Mom’s debts and are the kids, who may be struggling financially themselves, able to pay for the funeral? All this leads to unnecessary argument between the siblings. Perhaps one sibling is overbearing, making it difficult for each to receive things that were intended for him or her.

Having a Will does not mean you don’t have to probate your estate, but in Idaho, it is usually quick and painless. With a Will you have named your personal representative, you have indicated in writing to whom personal property items go and you have indicated how you want your estate to be divided.

Having peace in families is a desirable goal. A little planning can make life much easier for those left to settle your affairs.

Tom Packer is an Elder Law Attorney serving all of Southeast Idaho . As part of his law practice, Tom offers Life Care Planning to deal with the challenges created by long-term illness, disability and incapacity. If you have a question about a Senior’s legal, financial or healthcare needs, please call us.