The grief for the loss of a loved one makes it painful to handle their estate. But if the decedent left a will or trust, at least this conveys their wishes and guides their loved ones in the many financial decisions that they will need to make in the coming days, weeks, and months.
Unfortunately, many individuals never create a will or trust, leaving their relatives with the responsibility not only of handling their estate but of doing their best to guess what their parent or loved one would have wanted.
The assets of decedents who did not create a will or trust, which is called dying “intestate,” are subject to the intestate succession laws of their state. In this situation, the heirs need to hire an attorney to open a case in probate court, so that a judge can decide, according to statute, who will serve as estate administrator and who should inherit the assets. If minor children are involved, the judge will also decide who gets custody and who will control any money that the children inherit.
Intestate succession laws and custody decisions are complicated and time-consuming. Families in this situation can benefit greatly from hiring a professional estate administrator to handle these complex procedures, and may find this to be well worth the cost. Given the potential sensitivities around distribution of assets and responsibilities when there is no direction from the decedent, hiring a professional can go a long way in maintaining harmony within the family.
In conclusion, whether a person has a will, a trust, or no legal estate plan at all, estate administration can be overwhelming for a family grieving the loss of a loved one. Seeking an estate administration professional to provide guidance through the process, or even assume many of the estate administration responsibilities for the family, can provide peace of mind.