What If I Die Without a Will?

Q:      If I die without a Will does the State of Alabama get my property? 

 A:      If you die without a will the State will not get your property unless you do not have any heirs at law.  The Alabama Code sets out guidelines that that Probate Court must follow when someone dies without a Will.  Those guidelines, which are referred to as the rules of intestate succession, list who gets the estate.  An estate is the property a person owns at the time of their death.  In most cases the spouse of the deceased gets at least half of the estate.  In cases where there is no surviving spouse then the estate usually passes through to the children and then parents of the deceased.

  1.  If the deceased had no children and no surviving parents then everything goes to the surviving spouse.
  2. If there are no children but the parents of the deceased are living then the spouse gets the first $100,000 and the rest is divided equally between the parents.
  3. If there are children which are children of the deceased and the surviving spouse then the spouse gets the first $50,000 and the balance is divided between with the children.
  4. If there are children of the deceased who are not the children of the surviving spouse then the surviving spouse gets 50% and the children divide the other 50%.
  5. If there is no surviving spouse then the children of the decedent divide the estate.
  6. If there is no surviving spouse or children then the parents divide the estate.
  7. If there is no surviving spouse, children, or parents then the children of the parents (brothers and sisters of the deceased) divide the estate.
  8. If there is no surviving spouse, children, parents, brothers or sisters then it gets really complicated and you definitely need a lawyer.

             Some things like life insurance proceeds, 401(k)s, retirement accounts, joint accounts, and real property (land) may pass automatically outside the estate upon someone’s death.  Life insurance proceeds are payable to the named beneficiary by virtue of the contract between the insured person and the insurance company and are not paid into an estate unless the estate is listed as beneficiary.  The same is usually true for retirement and investment accounts. 

             Even though there is probably little fear that the State will take your property if you die without a Will, it is better to have a Will so your wishes can be carried out.  This is especially true in blended families where parents have remarried and there are children and step-children to provide for.  If you die without a Will administering your estate may also be more complicated and expensive because Probate Court will require you to provide a bond and file an inventory which are requirements that are usually waived in a Will.   

             Writing a Will is a fairly simple process but it is best to have the help of an attorney because certain formalities have to be followed.  If your Will is not worded properly or if it is not witnessed and notarized according to the letter of the law it could be deemed invalid.  The Will forms that you can find on the internet may not always address your individual concerns and may not contain the appropriate language.  You can make an already difficult time for your loved ones a little easier by making sure that your last wishes are spelled out in a Will.