There was a gentleman named “John” who walked into my office letting me know that his cousin’s condo needed to be sold. His cousin, “Jane”, died the previous year and her condo was just sitting there empty. Jane had no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings. John was a cousin on the maternal side of Jane’s family, and he only knew the names of eight family members on the maternal side. So we opened a probate estate which was based on the laws of intestacy since Jane did not have any estate planning documents such as a Will or Living Trust.
The intestacy laws are basically everybody’s “default will” if they do not write down their own wishes. In Illinois, it states that if you die with a surviving spouse and children, then half goes to spouse, half goes to children. If you die with only a spouse or only children, then all of your estate will go to such party or parties. If you die with neither, then it goes to your siblings and parents, in equal shares, and possibly to nieces and nephews if a sibling has predeceased you. If you do not have any of those surviving family members, then we have to reach up to the maternal and paternal grandparents’ sides, and create a large family tree to figure out who is below, and to figure out the correct labels of these individuals such as “cousins twice removed.”
In Jane’s situation, we had to do the latter. Within a week of filing the Petition in court, we received letters from two different attorneys, one representing the relatives under the paternal grandparents’ side which was about 30 additional beneficiaries, and the other attorney representing other relatives (who John did not know) from the maternal grandparents’ side which was an additional 25 beneficiaries. So the grand total of potential beneficiaries “sticking out their hand” for the inheritance from Jane was about 63 people.
The condo was the only asset in the estate. It sold for about $230,000. In the end, everyone received a piece of the pie (or more like a sliver) and it took over five years to complete.
Needless to say, this all could have been avoided. Had Jane signed a will stating her wishes, the probate estate would have been far less complicated and certainly less expensive. Further, had Jane chosen to prepare a Living Trust and retitled her condo under the name of such trust, then the estate would not have had to go through the public forum of probate court, and the family members would have received the inheritance quickly and efficiently. Do you have the “Default Will”?