What is Intestacy?
The definition of intestacy can be most easily understood by looking at the word in two parts. “In” means “without,” while “testacy” means a written document. Together, they mean “without a written document.” Someone who has died intestate passed away without a will or estate planning document.
The laws of intestacy govern the transfer of person’s property after they die if there is no written document, such as a will or other estate planning document. These laws are necessary because many people do not do any kind of estate planning, even a simple will.
Typically, the intestate laws dictate that the nearest blood relative to the person who died intestate receives the property. The nearest blood relatives are sometimes known as the intestate heirs or intestate beneficiaries, which simply means that they receive the decedent’s property even if the person who died did not prepare any kind of estate planning document.
Sometimes the results of an intestate estate can be shocking. A person may have lost all contact with his closest blood relatives but the intestacy laws dictate that those individuals, who may in fact be almost complete strangers, receive the property in question. In one recent case, a father had been stripped of all legal rights to contact his child and yet, under the rules of intestacy, the child was entitled to receive all his property when the father died; obviously not a result that the father had intended. Thus, dying intestate can create an intestate distribution completely at odds with the intent of the individual who happened to die intestate.
Why You Need a Will
The meaning of intestate comes most dramatically into play when special categories of individuals are involved. As a matter of public policy, spouses and children play an important role in the definition of intestacy. For example, many people physically separate from their spouses for years but never get a divorce. When they die, absent some form of estate planning document, the surviving “spouse” takes a substantial portion of that person’s estate by way of the intestacy provisions.
This is just one reason that it helps to have an attorney draft a testamentary document, which could be a “simple” will. An attorney is sensitive to and well versed in the laws of intestate succession and any well-drafted testamentary document ensures that the intent of the client will be followed, not the rules on intestacy.
Can the Government Take my Assets?
The definition of intestacy and the results of dying intestate are such that many of my clients believe that the state may “take all of their assets” if they don’t do a will or a trust. This is not the case, but the state is indirectly involved because its laws dictate who receives a person’s property in the intestate administration.
So, you can see why it is of real value to have an attorney draft a testamentary document on your behalf.
The Law Offices of David Baker can assist you with your will and estate planning in California. If you are in one of the following Bay Area locations: San Francisco, Berkeley, Albany, Pinole, Crockett, Martinez, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Vallejo and Richmond, call us or contact us today to discuss your situation (510) 724-2020.