When a person dies, there is no specific legal procedure for the succession of assets. If there is no will then the person’s possessions – including their “intellectual property – are generally distributed according to state probate law. In some states there is also a separate system of law known as equity after death.
It is important to remember that the term ‘property’ encompasses a very broad range of things. It can refer to real property, personal property such as a home or car, and intangible property such as accounts receivables and collectibles. Some people are actually more concerned with what happens to the property after their death, rather than what happens to the property before death. This is called estate probate. In California, for example, the term estate probate refers to the process by which a judge or court of law decides how property is to be distributed.
Probate can be a lengthy and complicated process. After a person dies, his/her estate must be looked over for liens and debts that are owed. At this point the probate court must determine who will inherit the deceased person’s property. Most commonly, the surviving spouse is the beneficiary of a deceased person’s estate.
State probate laws are designed to be in place to ensure that the person who has died receives all of his/her inheritance. The probate court determines who receives what property from the estate. The will must specifically name beneficiaries. If there is no will, or if the will does not specify who should receive an inheritance, then the court can appoint an administrator and provide money for all of the decedent’s expenses.
When someone dies without a will, their property usually becomes a joint tenancy. This means that they share the property with someone else who is not named on the document. In this situation, both people share in the property that will be transferred after the death. If the person who is listed as the beneficiary of the estate is not alive at the time of death, then his/her share of property must go to the surviving spouse.
Even in states that do allow a beneficiary to receive an inheritance after death, probate can often be an arduous and time consuming process. For instance, if the person who is listed as the beneficiary dies before the probate hearing takes place, then the state probate system must start an investigation to determine who is actually entitled to the property. There can be many complications in probate involving heirs, creditors and other parties.
There can also be problems if the person who is being investigated does not live in the state to which the probate case is being handled. If the probate hearing is in another state, then the probate judge may order the property to be sent to the state that is where the person who was being investigated lived at the time of death. States that have local statutes regarding how property must be distributed have their own separate system of law. It is important to be aware of these rules and regulations and to consult local probate courts when there are questions about how property will be distributed after a death.
Many times after the probate hearing has ended, the family members of the deceased realize that they may not be able to claim all or some of the deceased’s property. If this is the case, it is extremely helpful to have a will prepared and to have it drawn up by an attorney. Many individuals who want to ensure that they get to keep everything they are entitled to from estate planning circumstances have their wills drawn up and recorded by an attorney. Because probate court is usually a very formal environment, having a well drafted will ensure that the final beneficiaries receive their fair share of the assets accumulated during the decedent’s lifetime.