Although I have been an estate planning attorney with Morris Hall for over six years, I am still constantly amazed at the range of issues that arise when a person passes with no estate plan. One common issue I see in my practice deals with the beneficiaries of such an estate.
When a person passes away without an estate plan, it is called dying intestate. Because the decedent did not leave any instructions on who should receive his or her assets, the Probate Court must rely on statutes. The provisions regarding who will receive the assets of the decedent are found under Title 14 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. The court cannot and will not take into consideration any extraneous factors such as whether or not a potential beneficiary and the decedent did not get along or whether or not they had any contact. Intestacy can be very confusing, especially when it is a widow or widower who dies intestate. It is hard for family members to comprehend that only the relatives of the decedent (the last spouse to die) could possibly be beneficiaries and not the relatives of the first spouse. In the case of a widow passing away two years after her husband, under the laws of intestacy the relatives of the husband are not potential beneficiaries. Only the relatives of the widow are potential beneficiaries as the widow, and not the husband, owned the assets at her death. I have seen this happen many times and it leaves everyone involved unhappy.
This is just one more reason we spend so much effort and energy trying to get the word out that people need to plan ahead. Of course we hate when something bad happens to our clients, but even more than that, we hate to see when something bad happens to someone who is not our client and who has failed to plan ahead.
Contributed by MH attorney and partner Katherine A. O'Connell
About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years. Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, powers of attorney, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects. We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead. Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe. Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!
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