Paralegal Studies For Wills Trusts and Estates

September 25, 2013

Where Does My Stuff Go When I Die?

There’s a related common question that we all seem to know the answer to, but don’t act upon: Do I need a will?  Here’s the short answer: Yes, you do, most especially if you have minor children!  Why?  If you don’t have one, then your closest adult loved one is left with the difficult task of petitioning the local probate court for administration of your estate and appointment of a guardian for the children.  And, your belongings will not necessarily go to the individuals whom you hoped would receive them.  Rather, the court will distribute what you owned at your death according to state law.

The law that controls where your property goes if you die without a will is called the law of intestate succession.  Every state has its own.  Here’s what the Oklahoma Bar Association states about Oklahoma’s law concerning who will get your property if you die without a will or trust:

“Assuming your estate is not controlled by a prenuptial marriage contract, here are the general rules for how your estate will be distributed if you die without a will or a trust:

If you die leaving a surviving spouse and children, your spouse takes one-half of your estate, and your children split the remaining one-half in equal shares. If you die leaving a surviving spouse and no children, your spouse takes one-half of your estate, and your parents share the remaining one-half.

If you die single but have children, your children take your entire estate in equal shares. If you die single with no children, your parents take your entire estate. Oklahoma law provides for distribution of your estate in additional situations, all depending on the identity of your legal heirs. Special rules apply if you have children from a prior marriage and you have property acquired during your last marriage as well as separate property.”

Most importantly, in the case of a married couple with minor children, it would be costly and time consuming to be able to reach the deceased’s assets to financially support the children before the estate is settled by the court.  The surviving spouse would either have to be appointed guardian of the children by the court, “. . . or have someone else appointed, give a bond, make annual accountings to the court and obtain the court’s permission for many routine transactions. This will result in considerable expenses as well as legal difficulty.”  See the Oklahoma Bar Association public brochure on this subject.

Learn more about wills, trusts & estates by enrolling in the Paralegal Studies program at Community Care College.

2 thoughts on “Paralegal Studies For Wills Trusts and Estates”

  1. Thank you for reminding everyone how important it is to have a will. My father passed away nearly four years ago and he did not have a will. It was such a mess. It took us nearly two years after his death to get everything settled through probate. Furthermore, all of the attorney and court fees are paid by the estate. Thankfully, his estate was pretty simple and I have a great relationship with my step-mother, so the situation was not nearly as complicated as it could have been. Many people do not like to talk about death and dying, but it makes the grieving process so much easier for your family if you have a plan in place. It’s hard enough to lose someone, but it’s even harder when you aren’t sure of your loved one’s final wishes.

    1. Thanks, Erin, for this first-hand account of the unfortunate effect of not having a will. Your comments, if they encourage even one person out there, are worthwhile!