It is all too common that people think that they can put off creating a will until “later”. As recent events have shown, things happen we cannot anticipate. The advent of COVID-19 put many families in a situation they never anticipated – the sudden demise of a member of the family.
When people die suddenly and without a will (intestate) it places surviving family members in an emotionally charged situation that can also be expensive and problematic. When there is no will, there are not a lot of choices for the family. State law – and a non-family executor – takes away lots of the latitude a family might otherwise have in settling the estate.
When someone dies intestate, an administrator will need to be appointed to begin the probate process. The administrator will need to discover who all of the descendants are to divvy up the estate according to the statutory formula established by the state. That administrator frequently becomes a mediator between family members who quite often have quite different opinions about what is “right”.
If the decedent fails to name a personal representative and the siblings cannot agree on one, an estate administration lawyer is usually the logical choice. Sometimes the court will appoint someone if there are concerns about conflicts of interest or the rights of beneficiaries or creditors.
An administrator is obligated to execute the estate in a “reasonable and prudent” manner, getting all the parties to agree on “reasonable and prudent” can be tricky. Using an attorney on whom all the siblings agree may be better, but everyone has to agree to let the attorney do the job without undue influence. Attorneys have legal obligations to the estate rather than the individuals. That can be confusing and frustrating to some prospective heirs.
The obvious choice is not to die without a will. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to do. Siblings rarely agree on everything, and your forethought will not only protect your estate, it will go a long way to keeping peace in the family.