What Happens To a Family With No Estate Plan?

Estate Planning is the process of working with an attorney to create a legally-binding plan for what will happen to your remaining belongings and assets after you pass away. The bedrock of an Estate Plan is a Last Will and Testament. It dictates what the individual wants, as well as how they would like it accomplished. So what happens when someone passes away without an Estate Plan?

Let’s take the case of Sam as an example. Sam is in his mid-forties. He has a successful office job in a mid-level position. He is married to his wife Janice, who he adores. They have three children, all in elementary or high school. Two of them are from Janice’s previous marriage, but they are all treated equally.

One Wednesday afternoon, Sam is T-boned by another car driving back to the office from lunch. He dies in the hospital six hours later. His family is devastated.

In the immediate wake of his death, there is a great amount of confusion. Janice cannot access Sam’s bank account and is struggling to provide for the children with just her income. The mortgage payments are due, and Janice isn’t sure whose name the house and the vehicle are actually in. She just wants to be left alone, but creditors keep calling her every hour of the day.

A few weeks later, Sam’s estate enters into probate. Probate is the process where a Judge in the state the individual lives in determines in court what will happen to their belongings and assets. If you have created an Estate Plan, the Judge will abide by those wishes in probate court. If not, it is up to their discretion.

Janice is summoned to probate court, and told that she has to hire an attorney. She finds a local one for the process, but is unsure how she is going to pay them. Luckily, she knows that Sam had written an Estate Plan by himself – a word document on his computer from a decade ago, stating that he wanted all his worldly possessions to be passed on equally to his wife and children. The Estate Plan is immediately dismissed for being created without the help of an attorney and proper legally-binding language.

The probate court process drags on for months. The Judge is rude to Janice. She keeps having to take off work to be in court, discussing Sam in the public record when she would rather just stay quiet and grieve on her own time. The attorney fees keep piling up, and no financial relief from Sam’s estate has been granted yet.

Eventually, the Judge comes to their final decision. All of Sam’s assets and belongings are to be split evenly between Janice, his children, and his surviving parents – whom he hadn’t spoken to in ten years. What’s worse, the children from a prior marriage were not legally considered his, so only one of them is getting a portion of the estate. That estate is first used to pay the probate lawyer fees, and then syphoned off by credit card companies desperate for a payday. A few months after the court ended, Janice gets a check for a few hundred dollars in the mail. That’s the last she hears of it.

Of course, Sam could have averted this crisis by creating an Estate Plan. His assets would have been divided according to his own wishes by the Judge. He could have placed some money into a Trust, which Janice would have had immediate access to before probate even began. He just did not realize that he was going to pass away unexpectedly – and he could never find a free minute to go and make that Estate Plan with an attorney.

At Dublin Packard, we have seen families torn apart firsthand from a loved one passing away without creating an Estate Plan. It’s why we have dedicated our practice to making Estate Planning accessible to everyone. No one should have their wishes denied after their death. To take the first step towards protecting your family, contact Dublin Packard today! We provide modern Estate Planning for the modern family.

The following two tabs change content below.

Todd Murphy

Latest posts by Todd Murphy (see all)

%d bloggers like this: