Question: My husband and I have heard that a Will is arguably the most important legal document that the average person will ever sign. Why are Wills so important, and what is “Intestacy”?
Answer: If a person dies without making a Will he/she dies intestate. Without a Will, a decedent’s property will pass according to the State’s Intestate Succession Laws. If you are thinking that “intestacy” sounds like some sort of sickness, you may not be too far off the mark. When you see how the state distributes the funds of those who die intestate… you may feel a little sick.
In Connecticut, State statutes provide that if a person dies intestate, and there are children that are the children of the decedent and the spouse, the surviving spouse will receive the first $100,000 plus one half of the balance of the intestate estate. The children will receive the remainder. For example, assume a $500,000 estate: The spouse will receive $300,000 ($100,000 plus half of the remaining $400,000) and the children will receive the remaining $200,000 in equal proportions ($100,000 each). Now let us suppose that there is only one child who is 18 years-old. Even a very mature 18 year-old may have difficulty handling a check for $200,000.
Typically, when most people plan out their estate, they want all of their assets to go to the surviving spouse and not to their children. The thought is that the surviving spouse is in the best position to use the assets wisely for the benefit of the children. In many scenarios it does not make sense to hand a large sum of cash over to a child or young adult. Imagine trying to convince an 18 year-old into investing his/her money in a college education — good luck.
The rules are different if the decedent had children that were not children of the surviving spouse. In this case, the surviving spouse would receive one-half of the intestate estate, and the children would receive the balance. This solution seems to be based in logic. The state wants to make sure that the step-children of the surviving spouse are not taken advantage of by a person who is not related to them by blood. While this plan works in preventing the aforementioned problem, it still puts money into the hands of people who may not be ready to handle it. With a Will based plan you can direct where your assets go, as well as direct appropriate measures to protect your children from the problems that come with receiving a large sum of money outright.
If there are no children of the decedent, but the decedent is survived by a parent or parents, the spouse does not receive the entire intestate estate. In this scenario the surviving spouse will receive the first $100,000 plus three-quarters of the balance, and the parents would receive the balance of the estate. Furthermore, if there are no heirs to the estate, the decedent’s money, property, etc., will escheat to the state and the state will become the owner. It’s probably not a coincidence that you cannot spell escheat without “c-h-e-a-t.”
As you can see from the above sampling from the Connecticut Intestate Succession Statutes, by not planning for the disposition of your property the state has a plan for you. It should be no surprise that control freaks hate the laws of intestacy. It takes control (albeit control that was never exercised) of a person’s hand and vests that control with the State, who then applies cookie cutter solutions for unique situations. The only way to avoid intestacy is to make sure that you have a validly executed Will. Any other plan will fall short.
Guertin and Guertin, LLC
North Haven, Connecticut
An ElderCare Matters Partner