For most Kentuckians, the law of estates and trusts is like a foreign country. Without a map or guide, they can easily become lost among a forest of unfamiliar legal terms and procedures that may appear to be the rites of a private society. Perhaps the best way to avoid these disconcerting circumstances is to prepare and update a will. The consequences of dying without a will (dying intestate, in legal parlance) may convince even the most skeptical person that preparing a will is a sound idea.

The perils of dying intestate

If a person dies in Kentucky and does not have a valid will, the person’s property according to a statute that sets out the state’s laws of intestate succession. In other words, the person’s assets will be distributed according to rules established by the state legislature.

First, the assets in the estate are used to pay creditors of the decedent and the expenses of administering the estate. Whatever is left is divided as follows:

  • One-half of the estate generally goes to the decedent’s wife if the spouse is alive.
  • The remaining half of the estate passes to the following individuals in the order spelled out in the statute and only if at least one person in a class is alive: children of the decedent, the decedent’s father and mother, the decedent’s siblings, the decedent’s spouse, and so on along lines of lineal descent.

As can be easily inferred, no property or money passes to friends of the decedent or to any organizations that the decedent may wish to honor with a bequest. Also, no bequests of specific assets to specified individuals are possible.

The advantages of drafting a will

The advantage of having a will is that the decedent can exercise complete control over how the estate will be distributed. Also, some assets can be passed to persons of the decedent’s choosing by using assets with a payable-on-death clause. Consulting an experienced estate planning attorney can solve virtually all problems with ensuring that a person’s property winds up in the hands of the persons intended by the maker of the will.