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Probate Horror Story #13: The Only Child Pitfall

Welcome to the 13th in a series of Probate Horror Stories, courtesy of Brown & Crona, LLC. Last month our topic covered the best way to set up your IRA beneficiaries. This month, we will look at the unlucky estate fate of a small family that passes away without a will.

Fictional Situation: Mark & Ella

  • Mark and Ella, married, both in their early 70s
  • 1 adult daughter, single, no children
  • No will
  • Own a home, 2 cars, 2 vacation homes
  • Traveled extensively
  • No living relatives
  • Active with charity work

Mark and Ella were a happily-married couple with one adult child. Over their lifetimes they worked hard, invested wisely and were able to retire very comfortably. In addition to taking their adult daughter on lavish trips, they also spent much time enjoying their 2 vacation homes and attending charity functions. Because they assumed that their estate would naturally be passed down to their only daughter, they did not think it was necessary to spend time and money creating a will. Rather, they spent their money enjoying experiences as a family.

During one of their family trips, an unfortunate incident resulted in the death of Mark, Ella and their daughter. In the blink of an eye, their entire family was gone. Because both Mark and Ella were also only children, their own parents were deceased and their daughter did not have a family of her own, they did not have a large extended family.  The estate that they had worked so hard to achieve – the savings and possessions they had accumulated – would now be distributed according to the laws of intestacy.  Since Mark and Ella died without a will and no living heirs, it became necessary to track down their nearest living relatives on both sides of the family—a lengthy, time consuming and expensive process.

Mark and Ella’s estate, in addition to their daughter’s estate, were considered intestate which means they passed away without a will. (Mark and Ella had not urged their daughter to create a will, either.) In intestate cases, the probate court will divide the estate among the closest living relatives – regardless of any type of relationship they may or may not have had with the deceased.

However, in Mark and Ella’s case, there were no obvious close relatives. In this situation, the court dug deep to find any distant cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.. After an extensive search, a very distant cousin who lived in Maryland was found—someone who neither of them had met.    Their entire estate, their homes, cars, savings, investments – everything they owned – now belonged to  this distant cousin.

Had Mark, Ella and their daughter had a will at their deaths, they could have named one or more of their favorite charities to receive their estate.

If you don’t care who gets your estate after you pass away, then it’s really not necessary to create a will or trust. However, if you want to see your life’s work and sentimental items passed down to your loved ones or organizations that have real meaning to you, it is very important that you draft the proper documents to ensure your wishes are met. To begin the process of drafting a will in Colorado, contact the Denver will lawyers at The Brown Law Firm, LLC. Contact us at (303) 339-3750 or send us a message online to learn more about how we can help.

Watch for our blog next month for the next installment in our Probate Horror Story Series.