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  • Writer's pictureCook Tillman

What happens when someone passes away without a will?

Creating a will is something every adult should do, though many have not done it. Often, people put it off because it’s uncomfortable or they think they don’t need one. However, the fact is that not having a will can leave loved ones without any guidance or protection.

Recently, for instance, news outlets reported that iconic entertainer Aretha Franklin passed away without a will or trust. Now, her loved ones will have to navigate the complexities of administering an estate without direction from Franklin herself. Below, we examine what this might look like for families in similar situations.

Loss of privacy

There are estate planning strategies that can keep details of the estate and beneficiaries private. One option is to put property into a trust, as these assets will not go through the public probate process. Having an estate plan in place can also minimize contentious disputes that might arise. When people fight about assets or liabilities, especially when the deceased was in the public eye, there can be even greater attention paid to the event, which people typically want to avoid.

Questions over beneficiaries

When someone passes away without a will, he or she is leaving the distribution of assets in the hands of a court that will make decisions in accordance with state laws. The resulting arrangements could seem unfair in the eyes of family and friends, and close relationships outside of a marriage or relatives likely will not be recognized.

Costly penalties

There could be costly penalties of not having a will or trust. Transferring property, tax payments, debt liabilities are all subjects that people can address in a will so that they don’t leave a sizable financial burden to loved ones. They could be stuck with expensive property or hefty tax liabilities. It is also possible that a loved one would decide to sell items that a decedent wouldn’t have wanted to sell in the interest of making money.

Having a will or establishing a trust can help shield loved ones from these and other issues that can complicate a situation that is already difficult enough. As such, it can be in their best interests to examine the options for creating a comprehensive, valid estate plan.


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