When a person passes away without a Will the law determines who receives shares of the estate and in what proportions. Dying without a Will is called “intestacy” and the shares which pass by intestacy are called “intestate shares”.
The law is laid out very clearly as to who receives shares and in what amounts. The family structure determines who receives the property which is part of the deceased’s estate. How the estate will be distributed depends on which relatives of the deceased person survived the decedent. The first heirs in line to receive property are the surviving spouse and the deceased’s children. If the deceased did not leave a surviving spouse or children, then the property next passes to the parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
I discovered my passion for helping families with their estate matters after my lengthy experience as a former litigator. Because of this experience, I understand how challenging it can be when an estate is delayed by court proceedings or disputes. It places a heavy burden on the family and feels like a weight on the estate executor’s shoulders. One common situation requiring court petitions and hearings is when inheritance passes to minors.
As you can imagine, an estate executor cannot simply hand an inheritance check to a twelve-year-old child. A minor’s inheritance is generally subject to a court process involving the appointment of a guardian. Unless proper planning is in place, the executor will need to file a petition and attend a court hearing to appoint a ‘guardian of the estate’ for the child. The named guardian will be obligated to file annual reports, and the minor’s funds are essentially locked until the minor reaches the age of majority. Minors must attend guardianship hearings, which can be a painful experience.
The estate executor is the person nominated in a Will to handle all the legal and financial affairs for a loved one’s estate. It is a big job with a lot of responsibility. Executors carry the responsibility to ensure that the estate is handled right and run the risk of personal legal liability for any mistakes.
At some point in time the executor will be expected to distribute the assets of the estate. Distribution means paying all the taxes and the debts and making a distribution of the net estate to the beneficiaries. Beneficiaries naturally look forward to the date of distribution knowing they will receive their inheritance. In nearly every estate that I handle beneficiaries will reach out to me with urgent questions about the probate process. Beneficiaries have common questions such as ‘When will I receive my inheritance?’ or ‘How long will probate take?’. These are valid concerns. Managing the expectations of beneficiaries is crucial in avoiding disputes. Beneficiaries want to receive information from the estate primarily because they are concerned about when they will receive their share. In many cases it makes sense to share information with beneficiaries to ensure that their concerns are important to the estate.