Having a will is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your loved ones are taken care of and that your assets go where you want them to go after you're gone. If you die without a will, you are considered to have died “intestate” and Kentucky law determines who inherits your estate and in what shares.
Without a will, an estate will enter probate, which is the legal process of distributing an estate's assets to the deceased's heirs. Probate can be a costly and time-consuming experience, delaying the final disposition of a decedent's property for months or more depending on the complexity of the estate.
When someone dies without a will, property generally goes first to a surviving spouse, then to children, and then to other family members. Each state has its own set of intestacy laws, however, and specific provisions differ. Before delving into specific Kentucky intestacy laws, though, it is crucial to understand more about how the probate process works.
Kentucky Probate Process
The Kentucky Revised Statutes govern the handling of a deceased person's estate in the case of intestacy. Kentucky has a peculiar set of laws called “dower and curtesy,” which provide that certain property passes directly to a surviving spouse even before creditors are paid. The first $15,000 of personal property or money on hand goes to the surviving spouse. After creditors are paid, the surviving spouse receives one-half (50%) of the deceased spouse's personal property, one-half (50%) of real property, and one-third (33.3%) of real estate to use during their life.
If there is no surviving spouse and only surviving children, the children get the first $15,000 of the deceased's personal property and, after creditors are paid, split the remaining property.
Kentucky Intestacy Laws
Taking into account the dower and curtesy laws, additional intestacy succession depends upon the other surviving descendants of the deceased, with “descendants” including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, or siblings.
Other provisions of Kentucky intestate laws that go beyond surviving spouse and descendants include the following:
- Surviving spouse and parents, no descendants: Spouse share as described above and parents inherit the rest.
- Surviving spouse and siblings, no descendants or parents: Spouse share as described above and siblings inherit the rest.
- Surviving parents, no spouse or descendants: Parents inherit everything.
- Surviving siblings, no spouse, descendants, or parents: Siblings inherit everything.
Note that if inheriting children are under the age of 18, assets are held by a guardian or conservator who must secure court approval for any expenditures. Children gain control of the assets when they reach 18.
Special Considerations of Intestate Succession
Although many familial situations are straightforward, some are not, and it is important to recognize that there are several additional provisions under Kentucky law that may apply to your situation:
- If a couple is married but one spouse committed adultery, the surviving spouse would not inherit if the couple fails to reconcile.
- Adopted children are considered the same as biological children, but foster children and stepchildren are not. If you placed a child for adoption and the child was legally adopted by someone else, the child would not receive a share. If your spouse adopted your biological children, they still receive their share.
- Children conceived by the deceased but not born at the time of death receive a share of the estate if they are born within ten months of the deceased's death.
- Children born outside of marriage are entitled to a share of the father's estate if paternity is established either before or after the father's death.
- A grandchild is only eligible to receive a share of the estate if that child's parent is also deceased.
- Half-relatives are considered to be in the same position as whole relatives.
Importance of Having a Will
As you can see, without a will, your assets will be distributed according to state law, and that may not the way you would have preferred. Even if you agree with the distribution, though, it is much easier for your loved ones to have things settled as quickly as possible. If you have minor children, it is especially advisable that you have a last will and testament in place
If you are unsure of your inheritance rights or would like to ensure that your estate is in order so that state intestacy laws don't kick in, contact Crow Estate Planning & Probate today. Some careful planning is well worth your peace of mind moving forward.