How Property Distributed When Someone Dies Without A Will

The Price of Not Having a Simple Will

by Rania Combs

I read an article by Don McNay recently, which highlights the complexities, expense and unwanted results that can arise in cases of intestacy.

McNay is a financial columnist and advisor and explains that he tells anyone who comes in his door to get a will so that they can control how their assets are disposed of in the event of their death. But his mother and sister unfortunately didn’t take his advice, and the result was disastrous.

His mother died first, leaving him and his sister as her heirs. But because his sister was unemployed, he paid his mother’s funeral expenses, outstanding bills and mortgage, with the understanding that when the estate settled he would be reimbursed.

Unfortunately, the agreement was not reduced to writing, which was not a problem until his sister died unexpectedly, leaving a minor daughter and adult son. Things got even more complicated when his sister’s estranged husband came out of the woodwork. Although his sister had told him she had obtained a divorce, no formal divorce proceedings had taken place, so she was still legally married.

His sister’s husband started probate proceedings and asked to be named administrator of his sister’s estate.  Since his mom’s estate hadn’t settled, the husband was also named co-administrator of his mother’s estate. Also, because his sister had a minor child, a guardian ad litem also had to approve any decisions related to his mother’s estate.

McCay writes:

“The arguing back and forth caused a riff in the family over very little money. By the time the lawyers and other expenses (I got back the money I advanced) were paid, my share of my mother’s estate was a small sum and my sister’s estate received the same.

A bill from an attorney came in after Mom’s estate had settled. I was so tired of dealing with everything that I paid it myself rather than reopening the estate. Thus, I lost money on the overall process.”

He explains that the process of settling the estate was expensive, time-consuming, and resulted in his sister’s estranged husband getting half of his sister’s estate, something neither his mother nor his sister would have wanted.

“People may think that wills and attorneys are expensive. In the overall scheme of things, they really aren’t. I gladly would have paid ten times the average cost for my mother and sister to have had wills. And everyone (but my brother-in-law and the attorneys) would have come out way ahead.”

You can read My Story: Why People Need Wills by clicking here.

About Rania

Rania graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law Houston and is the founder of Rania Combs Law, PLLC. She has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and enjoys helping clients in Texas and North Carolina create estate plans that give them peace of mind.

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