What happens to my estate if I do not have a will?
This is perhaps the most important question in this entire booklet. If you do not have a will, your estate will pass under what is called "the laws of intestacy." Each state differs with respect to how the laws of intestacy apply, but if you are married at the time of your death, your spouse will probably be entitled to a certain share of your estate according to the particular state law. If you do not have a spouse, then your estate will pass by intestate succession. This is the disposition of property according to the laws of descent with respect to your heirs, if any. In rare cases, where you have no heirs whatsoever, your estate may pass to the actual treasury of your own state. The bottom line is that if you do not have a will, your money and your estate may pass to someone that you have not seen in years and who you never would have selected to receive your estate.
What happens to my life insurance policies after I pass away?
If you have named a beneficiary under your life insurance policy, then the proceeds of that policy will pass directly to such beneficiary. If there is no named beneficiary, then usually the proceeds become part of your estate and pass either according to the directions in your will or as stated above the laws of intestacy. The same would be true if you happen to name your estate as the beneficiary instead of an individual.
What would happen if I pass away and I owe money to a family member or some other creditor?
Once your Personal Representative has been appointed to administer your estate, the claimants (people to whom you may owe money) have a statutory period in which to file a claim against the estate. It is be up to the Personal Representative or Executor/executrix to decide whether or not a claim is valid and whether or not it should be paid from the estate assets. If a claim is denied, the claimant may ask the probate court to intervene.
What happens if I own real estate in other states?
In such a case, usually ancillary probate proceedings become necessary in each state where you own property. The jurisdiction of the local probate court extends to the property owned in another state. This is usually performed by the attorney who is handling your estate, but also may involve an attorney out-of-state. There are several ways to avoid ancillary probate including owning the out-of-state property in joint tenancy which is discussed above. Sometimes ancillary probate becomes necessary even when there is a surviving joint owner of the property, simply to show on record that the survivor is the only remaining title holder.