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What Does “Intestate” Mean?

The more formal description of a will is a “last will and testament.” So what happens when someone dies without a valid will? That condition is called “intestate” (the “test” referring to the same root as the one in “testament” of “last will and testament”). Without a valid will, the probate court won’t know what a deceased person truly wanted in terms of taking care of the people and property left behind, and so it has to try its best to assign guardians for minor children and dispose of property based on applicable law and the judge’s own best judgment.An intestate probate process is very hard on the loved ones of the deceased. It’s fairly common for a person to have verbally expressed their wishes before they died, but without it all written down (and in manner prescribed by law), those expressed wishes aren’t binding. Before they die, people sometimes will promise to give the same property or heirlooms to more than one person, creating additional uncertainty and even hurt feelings among those who are already grieving. The potential for family conflict and hurt feelings are even greater when the fight is over who cares for minor children of the deceased. A stranger (the probate judge) is then left to make these critical decisions.If a person dies intestate, it’s also very expensive for the family members who are left behind. In addition to court fees, most if not all of the parties will need attorneys to protect their interest in the estate of the deceased. It’s not uncommon for half or more of the deceased person’s estate to be eaten up by fees and other expenses before the estate is settled. Sometimes “intestate” is mistakenly defined as “the condition of dying without a will,” but that isn’t entirely accurate. Sometimes people try to write their own wills but don’t do it in accordance with the law, meaning that even though a deceased person’s wishes are all nice and neatly typed up, it still isn’t a valid will. Incomplete or improperly written wills still leave a deceased person’s family in a lurch. All this could easily be avoided by a little advance planning. One of the kindest gifts a person can give to their family to help them through the aftermath of losing someone they love is to spare them the probate process. Talk to a qualified Kansas estate planning attorney today to learn more about how to give that gift to your own family.by Cole Bailey, J.D.Research Assistant Hillary Stirling