As I write this post, I am mourning the death of my father-in-law who passed this week. He was a great man, always upbeat and full of love for his wife, family and friends. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Unfortunately, death can come at an unexpected time. I mean, how many people actually know when they are going to die? Because of this unknown, there are many people who don’t get around to preparing a Last Will and Testament (also known as ‘will’, for short). Some people do mean well – they just decide to keep putting it off, and putting it off, until one day it’s much too late. When someone dies without a will, it is called dying ‘intestate’.

While probate laws differ by state, the process appears similar. One would have to go through the probate process for the court to determine how the title should be distributed amongst the heirs, in accordance to the probate laws of that state. This process could be time consuming and expensive.

An administrator, or representative will be appointed by the Probate Court (or selected by the heirs to serve in this capacity). The administrator would be responsible for collecting all claims and debts owed against the property, which would have to be paid off first when the property is sold. Once all debts (including mortgages owed) have been settled, the remaining equity, if any, will be distributed to the heirs, based upon the laws for that state. (For example, if the deceased had no children, but have a surviving spouse, then the court may award title to the spouse. However, if the deceased has children and a spouse, then the court will decide in what share the equity is to be distributed amongst the children and spouse once the property is sold). Again, laws vary by state, so it’s important to consult with a probate attorney for specific rules in your state.

If the property still has a mortgage, the monthly payments would need to be kept current until the property is sold to avoid foreclosure.

To prevent all of this heartache and pain for the grieving heirs, the ideal scenario would be to prepare a will so that the estate can be distributed according to that person’s wishes – instead of being distributed by the laws of the court.

Take a lesson from all of those individuals who died intestate thus far, if you have not prepared a will, contact an estate planning attorney for your family’s peace of mind – it’s just the smart thing to do!