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What is an Intestate Estate?

Massachusetts residents dealing with estate planning needs may wonder about the impact of an individual dying without leaving a will. An individual who expires without a valid will is considered intestate, and the intestate estate is the collection of assets that have not been appropriately disposed of through a will. It is helpful to note that a portion of an estate might be considered intestate if a will does not adequately address that asset or property.

If part or all of an estate is intestate, state law will be used to allow an individual’s assets to be passed on to heirs. If a will exists, an intestate portion of the estate might be managed in light of a decedent’s express exclusion or limitation of rights affecting certain individuals as indicated in the estate plan. In such a case, the portion of the intestate estate would be treated as if the individuals affected had not claimed their share of the estate.

A spouse is the first individual considered in administering an intestate estate with the entire estate going to that individual as long as there are no surviving descendants other than those who are also descendants of the spouse. However, a portion of the estate might go to a surviving parent if an intestate estate exceeds $200,000 in value. A portion might go to the decedent’s surviving descendants who are not also descendants of a spouse if the intestate portion exceeds $100,000 in value. This is also true if in addition to shared descendants, a surviving spouse has other descendants.

Because omitted assets might be considered intestate, it may be important to discuss steps for avoiding unanticipated asset distribution decisions by working with a lawyer during the crafting of a will. A lawyer may provide measures to ensure that assets not yet acquired will be addressed in general terms. Additionally, periodic reviews can be planned to address changes in life circumstances such as a new child or a divorce.

Source: Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries, “Massachusetts Law About Wills and Estates“, October 27, 2014

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