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What Happens If You Don’t Make a Will?

Posted by Joseph Britt | Jul 31, 2023

As an estate planning attorney serving clients in Alabama, I often encounter individuals who have not taken the time to create a will or establish an estate plan. While it's understandable that discussing end-of-life matters may be uncomfortable, it is crucial to recognize the potential consequences of not having a will in place. When a person passes away without a valid will, it is referred to as dying "intestate."

Dying without a will can lead to a series of legal complexities and may not align with your actual wishes for how your assets should be distributed among your loved ones. In the absence of a will, the distribution of your estate will be governed by Alabama's intestacy laws.

Intestate Succession in Alabama:

Alabama's intestate succession laws dictate how a deceased person's assets will be distributed when there is no will or other estate planning documents. The distribution is based on the relationships of surviving relatives, and the state's guidelines will prevail in the absence of your written instructions.

Here is a simplified breakdown of how intestate succession typically occurs in Alabama:

  1. If the decedent is survived by a spouse, the following rules apply:
    1. If the decedent didn't leave parents or children, the spouse gets everything.
    2. If the decedent was survived by parents but not by children, the spouse gets $100,000 and half of the balance of the decedent's estate.  The decedent's parents get the remaining half.
    3. If the decedent had children who are also children of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse gets $50,000 and one half of the balance of the decedent's estate.  The surviving children share the other half of the balance.
    4. If the decedent had living children that are not the children of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse gets one half of the estate and the decedent's children get the remaining half.
  2. If the decedent is not survived by a spouse, the estate passes to decedent's heirs at law in the following order of priority:
    1. Children and their descendants;
    2. Parents;
    3. Brothers and sisters, or, if all are deceased, nieces and nephews;
    4. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles or, if all are deceased, to their descendants; and
    5. The State of Alabama.

The Importance of Creating a Will:

While intestacy laws provide a default distribution method, it may not align with your specific wishes or unique family dynamics. By creating a will, you retain control over how your assets will be distributed after your passing. A will allows you to:

  1. Designate Beneficiaries: You can specify who will inherit your assets, ensuring that they go to the individuals or charitable organizations you choose.

  2. Nominate Guardians for Minor Children: If you have minor children, a will enables you to appoint guardians to care for them in your absence.

  3. Name an Executor: You can appoint a trusted individual to handle the administration of your estate, ensuring that your wishes are carried out effectively.

  4. Minimize Conflicts: A well-drafted will can help reduce the likelihood of disputes among family members regarding the distribution of your estate.

  5. Plan for Tax Efficiency: Estate planning, including wills, can be structured to minimize tax burdens on your estate and beneficiaries.

Consult an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney:

As an estate planning attorney in Alabama, I understand that discussing end-of-life matters can be sensitive. However, having a legally sound and comprehensive estate plan is essential to protect your loved ones and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

If you have not created a will or need to update your existing estate plan, I encourage you to seek the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney. Contact Britt Estate Law at 256-272-1726 to schedule a consultation, and we will work together to craft a personalized plan that reflects your unique needs and goals for the future. Remember, taking proactive steps today can provide peace of mind and security for your loved ones tomorrow.

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Britt Estate Planning & Probate is committed to answering your questions about Estate Planning, Probate, and Estate Administration issues in Alabama. We offer consultations and we'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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