What Happens When a Relative Dies Without a Will?

When a relative dies without a will, your family may not know what to do. Problems you may encounter include how to deal with funeral expenses, how to cover immediate bills, and what to do about the estate.

No Will? The Estate Needs a Representative

If you and your family cannot find your relative’s will, and there are bills to pay or assets to distribute, you may need help from the court. The probate court can appoint an estate representative to manage and distribute the deceased relative’s estate.

Note that you should not spend your deceased relative’s money until the court appoints the representative. While your family may want to use the money for a funeral or to pay bills, you should wait even if it means delaying the funeral. To make sure the deceased person’s assets stay in good repair and are distributed to the right people, you need to seek legal help as soon as possible after the death.

If There’s No Will, Who Gets the Assets?

Once the court appoints a representative, he or she will begin gathering assets and identifying heirs. The representative is also in charge of managing the deceased person’s money and property, including paying for the funeral and bills. The court provides some minimal supervision, such as requiring the representative to submit an estate inventory and accounting.

Since there is no will, the law of intestate succession will apply. This law explains who receives the estate assets and in which order. Any living spouses or children will inherit the bulk of the estate. If a spouse or children have died before the relative did, then more distant relatives such as parents or grandchildren could inherit. The intestate succession law in Illinois is very complicated, so the personal representative may need a lawyer’s help to interpret it.

Also, the estate may need to pay debts before the representative makes the final distribution to heirs. Many creditors have priority over estate funds, so they get paid first with anything left over going to heirs later. As a result, inheritances from people with many debts and few assets could be smaller than expected.

Finally, the lack of a will can create legal disputes among relatives about distribution of property. It is especially important to seek legal help as soon as you realize that there is no will. Having a lawyer for the estate can head off arguments before they begin.

Want to start planning your estate? Local attorney Andrew Szocka, Esq. provides thorough and speedy estate planning help in the Chicagoland area. To schedule a free initial consultation, visit the Law Office of Andrew Szocka, P.C. online or call the office at (815) 455-8430.

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