When family members are left in a position where their loved one dies without a will, there are many questions that are raised regarding what to do next.
Before continuing however, it’s important to understand that in these instances, the laws are incredibly nuanced and no online article will replace the knowledge and expertise of an attorney. As such, we have decided to keep this article as an overview on some of the most common types of intestate situations to serve as a starting point to consult with an attorney.
What is Intestate Succession?
When discussing what happens when a person dies without a will, the term intestate succession invariably arises. These are laws which act as an automatic blueprint for how estate assets are dispersed after an individual dies if no formal will is in place.
What Assets Qualify?
There is some confusion as to what assets are actually passed through the intestate laws when an individual dies. This is because not all assets are viewed as equal in the eyes of the Probate Court.
A rule of thumb to abide by is that if the assets in question were solely owned personal property, or, if the assets would have otherwise been passed down through the probate process of a will, then the laws of intestate succession apply.
This category of assets is known as probate assets and include the following items:
- Individually owned bank accounts
- Individually owned brokerage accounts
- Individually or tenants in common owned real estate
- Personal property such as jewelry, vehicles, etc.
Who Will Inherit What?
Arizona law outlines several provisions for who will inherit what assets in the event an individual dies intestate. While laws are subject to change and discussing the matter with an estate planning attorney is your best source of information, the following list is an overview on inheritance rights in the state of Arizona.
1. Surviving Spouses
What spouses and children inherit from the estate depends on the structure of the family, thus the two are inextricably intertwined.
Arizona is a community property state.This means that all assets obtained during the marriage (except inheritance, gifts, and separate property acquired before the marriage) are the property of the couple collectively. Therefore, even when there is no will in place, the surviving spouse is still entitled to half the value of all non-exempt assets that were acquired during the marriage.
Note, however, that in instances where the couple did not have any children, the surviving spouse will inherit the entirety of the decedent’s personal property in addition to their one half share of the community.
Many different legal categories of children exist and understanding the nuances of their inheritance rights would be a topic too large for the nature of this (or any) article.
Digression aside, the most common and closely related children are those who are biologically related to the deceased parent or those legally adopted by that same individual. Both cases are treated the same under Arizona law and are thus entitled to equal shares of the remaining half of the marital property.
3. Parents and Siblings
In cases where there are neither a surviving spouse nor child who can inherit the estate, parents and siblings are the next in line.
Here, parents take priority over siblings, meaning surviving parents will inherit equal estate disbursements while siblings will receive nothing. In cases where there are no surviving parents, siblings will receive equal disbursements instead.
There is one final category of inheritance that is rare, though sometimes needed– escheat. This occurs when the decedent truly leaves no possible heir behind and thus the state absorbs the individual’s assets.
Your Legal Resources
As mentioned, when you are dealing with intestate passing, it is not safe territory for a layman– in fact, going it alone could run you into more trouble in the long term than simply hiring an attorney to discuss your options and receive solid legal advice.
Get all of your questions about probate answered by probate attorney Susan L. Sandys. Having a lawyer explain the probate process in simple English and walk you through the probate steps will make everything easier during a very difficult and challenging time. Schedule an appointment with Sue by calling 602-996-4076 or, preferably, emailing the office at [email protected] today.