Jennifer C. Rydberg, Attorney at Law
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What happens if a person dies without a will?

Drafting a will is an important part of estate planning for anyone in Kent, regardless of their assets and income. While some people may think they don't need a will, there are actually many good reasons to consider drafting one.

Some assets are passed on without a will. A savings pass-on-death account or life insurance proceeds, for example, go to named beneficiaries without a will. However, other financial assets such as a rental deposit, lawsuit settlement or medical reimbursement may also come up when a person passes away. It is difficult to address their distribution because checks for these assets are made out to the deceased and no beneficiaries are named. Therefore, it may be a good idea to address these assets in a will.

Sometimes couples place all their assets in joint names, which automatically pass property to the other owner, or with beneficiary forms such as an individual retirement account. However, there are also problems with this joint-asset strategy. For example, these mechanisms may leave out assets such as a car. When this occurs, an administrator must be named required to transfer its title. Moreover, this strategy does not address who receives the asset when the surviving spouse who received the joint asset later dies.

Executors are also named in wills to cash checks, handle tax matters, pay off creditors and engage in the distribution of property and assets to heirs. When an executor is not named, heirs must ask the court to appoint a personal administrator. This may ultimately lead to a dispute among family members, because courts usually name a surviving spouse or child.

Finally, Washington law dictates which family receives assets if a person dies intestate. This distribution may go against the person's intent, and may not address the financial needs of the surviving spouse or other family members.

A qualified lawyer can help with the drafting of a will and making other estate plans. This can help ensure that the person's wishes are carried out and inheritance issues and litigation are avoided.

Source: AARP, "Why you need a will," Jane Bryant Quinn, May 1, 2017

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