Unfortunately, estate planning happens to be the one area of law that is so critical for one’s future, and so important for their children and grandchildren; however, so many people either wait too long to craft an estate plan until they wind up writing what some estate planning attorneys refer to as a “death-bed” will, or they die intestate, which means without a will.
While it’s human nature to procrastinate, and while nobody truly wants to think about their death, failing to plan for the distribution of your hard-earned assets can spell disaster for your loved ones after you pass. When wills are constructed days or hours before someone dies, they may not hold up in court and questions of undue influence and mental incapacity can arise. Or, when someone dies of an unexpected heart attack or in an accident, they can die without any type of estate plan in place, which means that their estate will be distributed according to the state’s “intestate succession” laws. For example, if you die with children but with no spouse, your children will inherit everything.
If you die with a spouse with no descendants, then your spouse will get everything. If you die with a spouse and descendants, your spouse will inherit 1/2 of your intestate property and your children will get the other half. If you don’t have a spouse or any children, or any siblings, then your parents will inherit everything. If you don’t have a spouse, descendants, or parents, then your siblings inherit everything. If you die with no spouse and no descendants but you have parents and siblings, then your parents and your siblings will receive equal shares. Lastly, if you have no spouse, no descendants, but you do have siblings and one parent that is living, that parent will receive a double share.
Will my property go to the state?
If you die without a will and don’t have a spouse, parents, children, or siblings, your property can be handed over to the state; however, this rarely happens because the laws are designed in such a fashion so that your property goes to anyone who is remotely related to you. For example, your property would not go to the state providing you have grandparents, aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews, cousins, or siblings of a spouse who died before you.
While it may be reassuring to know that your assets will more than likely go to your spouse or your children if you die under the state’s intestate succession laws, this does not mean that your assets will be distributed to who you would have wanted. The laws are black and white and they don’t take into consideration the fact that someone’s child might have a substance abuse problem, or perhaps the decedent hasn’t spoken to his son in twenty years, or perhaps the decedent has raised his grandchild and wants the grandchild to inherit most of his estate.
The laws cannot possibly reflect family relationships and we cannot stress enough how important it is to consider these relationships when crafting an estate plan. Whether you want your legacy to be passed on to your new wife, or your best friend, or your stepchildren, or your favorite charity, the only way to ensure that your assets go where you want them to go is to create an estate plan now, when you are healthy and of sound mind to make these important choices.
In Arizona, the laws of intestate succession can be found under: 755 Arizona Statutes §§ 5/2-1 to 5/2-5. Since the laws of intestate succession can be confusing, it’s a wise idea to consult with a Arizona estate planning attorney from Ferris, Thomson & Zweig.