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What if there is no will after a person dies?

At this point in modern society, it seems obvious that nearly every adult should have some sort of will. Somehow, unfortunately, this is not the case. Even individuals with significant assets or liabilities sometimes die without wills, leaving their families to sort through the pieces — often creating massive conflict among the survivors. One only needs to quickly Google the ongoing drama in the estate of the late artist Prince to get a full picture of just how messy and complicated this scenario can get.

Without a will, much of an estate must go through probate administration. This is the process by which the state determines who would receive a portion of the estate and how much of the estate each party should receive. Whereas a will might helpfully outline which parties the deceased wished to leave his or her estate, in the absence of a will, the matter is almost entirely in the hands of the state. While not all property must pass through probate in every instance, the thresholds that trigger the process are fairly low in California.

One of the key problems that arise when a person dies without a will is that the state does not make emotional or personal decisions. It is not concerned with the wishes of the deceased, or with any existing conflicts between the potential heirs. One does not have to possess a strong imagination to understand how this can prove frustrating for literally everyone involved, especially if significant assets are at stake. This process might be relatively equivalent to a government official arriving on the doorstep of a family's home on Christmas Day, collecting all the gifts under a Christmas tree and then redistributing them all without any regard for who is intended to receive any particular gift.

If you face this particular difficulty, be sure to obtain legal counsel as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the more frustrating and complicated this matter can become. Proper legal counsel ensures that you fully understand the issues at hand while working to protect your rights and priorities against any conflicts that may arise.

Source: Findlaw, "When Do You Have to Go Through Probate?," accessed Oct. 20, 2017

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