There are millions of Americans without a Last Will and Testament, which presents huge potential problems for families of all kinds. Even if you do not hold much in the way of assets, it is still wise to at least have a simple Will on hand to ensure that the probate courts can disseminate your estate as efficiently as possible. Failure to do so can lead to lingering family repercussions, such as in the case of Wilbur Fox's estate.
Keep your state's intestacy laws in mind
In the legal world, “intestacy” is the act of dying without a Last Will and Testament. The rules that govern dying intestate are different depending on which state you reside in. Many people assume that if they die without a Will, this means that their entire estate will automatically pass to their spouse, but this is not the case. Dying intestate runs the risk of creating bitter family feuds and divisions, as was the case of the Fox family.
Wilbur Fox's unexpected death
Wilbur Fox and his wife Nancy were nearing retirement and had no children. At the time of Wilbur's death, he and Nancy resided on a family farm in the countryside. Wilbur was in his late 50s with no Will. Like many Americans, Wilbur had planned to start estate planning after his pending retirement.
Tragically, a drunk driver careened out of his lane and hit Wilbur on the interstate one night: Wilbur died shortly thereafter. While the sudden and unexpected loss was difficult enough on the Fox family, the fact that Wilbur had died without a will in place made the aftermath much worse.
The Fox Family Feud
Wilbur and Nancy resided in a state where if an individual dies intestate the entire estate does not automatically go to the spouse. This posited a serious problem for Nancy, as she was older than Wilbur. Nancy was unable to manage the property on her own after Wilbur’s death. Since selling the farm had been something Nancy and Wilbur had been planning to do to fund their retirement she thought it wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately for Nancy, she was wrong.
The problem with this plan was Wilbur's younger sister, June. The land that Wilbur and Nancy had been living on at the time of Wilbur's death had been in the Fox family for generations. As a result, June, even though she no longer lived on the property herself, wanted to keep it in the family.
As a result, Nancy and June ended up fighting a bitter court battle over who had the rights to the property. The court costs were in the tens of thousands and the rift irreparably damaged the relationship between Nancy and the rest of the Fox family.
Fixing the problem before it starts
While Wilbur's death was an unexpected tragedy, he could have prevented the feud over his estate by having a comprehensive will in place. While Nancy and Wilbur had discussed selling the farm to fund their retirement among themselves, there was no legal record of Wilbur's wishes and he had not made it explicit who he wanted in charge of the property in the event of his death.
The best way to prevent postmortem family feuds is to stop them before they start. Contact AmeriEstate today to ensure that you have a clear plan for the probate courts to follow after your death. Your family's happiness and well-being may depend on it.