Many Arizonans put off estate planning until it's too late. There are many reasons this occurs, but one of the most prevalent is the fact that most people simply want their spouse and their children to inherit their estate. However, depending on the circumstances at hand, an individual who passes away without a will or other estate planning documents may have his or her assets distributed in a way that works counter to his or her intentions.
An individual who passes away without an estate plan is said to have died intestate. When this happens, the states intestate succession laws kick in. The purpose of these laws is to distribute an estate in a way that the average person would find agreeable. Therefore, assets will generally be left to a surviving spouse. However, matters may change if the deceased is survived by parents, there is not spouse, and/or there are children from different marriages.
So, a spouse may inherit a significant portion of a loved one's estate, but if there are children from another marriage, then a part of the estate may bypass the spouse and be inherited by those children. While this is a generalization that fails to take into account a number of other factors that can affect intestate succession, it serves to illustrate how complicated the process can be. After all, when the surviving spouse dies, he or she may choose not to leave anything to the children of their loved one's other marriage. This can be avoided, though, through proper up front estate planning.
Some individuals are content with intestate succession, but it really does leave an estate susceptible to a lot of unknowns. This is why it is advisable for individuals to consider what they want of their estate and their loved ones after their passing. Then, they should consider working closely with an estate planning professional who can help them develop the legal documents they need, including wills and trusts, to ensure that their wishes are brought into reality.