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Dad Just Died Without a Will… Now What?

Old boots“You can’t be forced to take on the burdens of the administration of an estate, merely because you are an heir.”

If your father died suddenly of a heart attack in New Jersey without a will – but had a home with a second mortgage, a vehicle and significant credit card debt – what would you need to do? A recent nj.com’s post asks “Who is responsible if dad dies with no will?”

Needless to say, when someone dies without a will and leaves nothing to guide their heirs, things can get complicated. But the process of being appointed as executor if there’s a will (or as administrator if there’s no will), typically isn’t that difficult or expensive.

Bonds are typically waived for executors, but many times administrators must post a bond. The bond amount is derived from the value of the estate. If you’re appointed as an executor (or as an administrator of your father’s estate), it doesn’t make you personally responsible for any of his unpaid debts or obligations. You can’t be forced to take on the burdens of administration of an estate, merely because you are an heir.

However, once you agree to serve and you’re appointed as an executor (or an administrator) by the court, you can’t just bail. You’d have to have the court’s okay to resign. A successor fiduciary would then need to be appointed.

When there’s real estate involved—in this case the father’s home—and you’re an heir of the estate, when the foreclosure of the mortgage is started, the heirs will likely be named in the proceedings—regardless of whether you’re an executor (or an administrator). But you don’t necessarily have to respond to the pleadings.

If no family member is willing to serve as a fiduciary to administer the father's estate, and with assets in the estate to be administered and debts to be paid, the court most likely would appoint an attorney to serve in that capacity. In New Jersey, the statute says creditors can also apply for the job. The administrator is paid from the sale of the assets.

Assuming that the father in this example wasn’t married at the time of his death, his only children are three siblings and there was no will, each sibling would be entitled to a one-third share of his estate based on the laws of intestacy. They’d also each be entitled to be appointed and to act jointly as administrators of his estate. However, any one or two could renounce in favor of the other(s). This has no effect on that person’s one-third share of the estate.

Reference: nj.com (February 23, 2017) “Who is responsible if dad dies with no will?”

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Not Having Children Does Not Mean You Do Not Need an Estate Plan

Bigstock-Perfect-Couple-88317566If you do not have any children, you might not think that you need to bother with having an estate plan. However, having an estate plan is often even more important for people without children than for people with children.

A common myth exists that the purpose of estate planning is to provide a way for a person's children to receive their inheritances. From this it follows that people who do not have children do not need to have an estate plan. Nothing could be further from the truth. Providing an inheritance for children is only one purpose of an estate plan, not the sole purpose or even the most important purpose.

As U.S. News & World Report points out in, "No Kids? You Still Need an Estate Plan," people without children need, at the very least, to have a will if they want to have a say in who gets their assets after they pass away.

People who pass away without a will are said to have died intestate. Every state has a law that determines who gets the assets of people who die intestate. The laws all operate similarly, in that the assets are given to the person's closest living relatives.

Under such law, those who have a spouse or children will have their assets given to that spouse or the children. If however you have no spouse or children, then your assets will be distributed to other relatives, depending on who is closest in line. Ultimately, if you have no living relatives that can be found, then the assets will be claimed by the government. The term for this is escheat.

So, the primary purpose of estate planning for most people is avoiding the laws of intestacy and deciding for yourself who will inherit from you.

Do not let the fact that you do not have children deter you from getting an estate plan. Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to help you design a custom plan for your unique circumstances.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (October 14, 2015) "No Kids? You Still Need an Estate Plan"

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Is Your Mom Lizzie from Ireland? You May Be an Heir to $788,000

P02dht12The BBC program “Heir Hunters” has been working with Finders International, a group that traces missing heirs, to find a rightful claimant.

Tracing a long lost relative to claim an inheritance can be extremely tricky if no will or other estate planning documents are found.

Take Kathleen Hilda Ryan for example. Kathleen passed away in Greenwhich, United Kingdom in 2013 with an estate valued at $788,000. She had inherited the bulk of it from her sister, Joan.

Kathleen had no children of her own, no living siblings and no will.

In fact, as far as anyone knows, she had no living relatives at all. However, it is believed that her aunt, Lizzie, emigrated from Ireland to New York at some point.

Thus, the search is on for what happened to Lizzie and whether she had any children.

If any of Lizzie's children are found, then they would inherit the estate. If no one is found in 30 years, then the estate will become the property of the British Crown.

Many people have submitted claims to being the descendants of Lizzie, but thus far no one has been able to prove it.

Irish Central reported the story in an article titled "Is your ancestor Lizzie Ryan from Westmeath? You could inherit $788,000."

In the United States, the law is basically the same with one big exception. If no relative is found the estate does not go to the British Crown, but rather it passes to the state in which the estate property is located.

Thus, unless you want your estate to become the property of state government, it is very important that you have some kind of estate plan, especially if you do not have any close relatives who can be easily found.

Of course, if you are descended from a Lizzie Ryan who emigrated from Ireland to New York in the mid-1900s, you might want to stake a claim to the estate of Kathleen Hilda Ryan while you can.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Irish Central (May 16, 2015) "Is your ancestor Lizzie Ryan from Westmeath? You could inherit $788,000."

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