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What Happens if I Die Without an Estate Plan?

When a person dies, their assets must be distributed. If a person fails to create a will or trust, their property will pass via the state laws of intestate succession. Every state has a specific set of laws providing a sort of default will.  For example, if a person dies without an estate plan in Arizona, the probate court will first determine whether the decedent was married.   Arizona is a community property state, so there are two kinds of property a married decedent passes when they die: their separate property and a one-half interest in the couple’s community property.  Below is a “nutshell” version of where a person’s property goes when they die with no estate plan:

  • If the decedent was married and had no surviving descendants all of the decedent’s property passes to the surviving spouse.
  • If the decedent was married and had surviving descendants who are all descendants of the surviving spouse, all of the decedent’s property passes to the surviving spouse.
  • If the decedent was married and had surviving descendants, one or more of whom are not descendants of the surviving spouse, one half of the decedent’s separate property will pass to the surviving spouse and one half of the separate property and decedent’s entire one half interest in the community property passes to the decedent’s descendants.
  • If the decedent was not married, or if the decedent’s spouse predeceased him or her, the property will go to the decedent’s descendants. Under the statutes, property is distributed per capita at each generation level.  This means that the shares of the decedent’s property to be passed are determined by the number of descendants at each generational level.
  • If the decedent was not married and didn’t have any descendants, then his or her property goes to surviving parents. If both of parents are surviving, then each parent takes equally. If only one parent is surviving then all property goes to the surviving parent. If no parents are surviving, property passes to the decedent’s parents’ descendants per capita at each generation.
  • If a decedent has no surviving descendant, parent, or descendant of a parent, the property will pass to surviving grandparents, if any, or the grandparents’ descendants. If no one is qualified to claim the property under any of the scenarios listed, the property will pass to the State of Arizona.

This “nutshell” version of the Arizona laws of intestate succession is a very brief overview and does not address the many complexities present in blended and non-traditional families.  The outcome in many cases is not consistent with what the decedent would have wanted.  Creating a proper estate plan ensures that  property passes to whom you want, how you want.  Take the first step- contact a Morris Hall attorney today.

andrea-claus  Contributed by Morris Hall, PLLC Phoenix and Prescott Estate Planning Attorney, Andrea L. Claus.

About Morris Hall, PLLC:
At Morris Hall, PLLC we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 45 years.  Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, power of attorneys, 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, Carefree, Tucson, Oro Valley, Prescott, Sedona, 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!

This blog should be used for informational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.

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