Foley Alabama Attorneys
(251) 444-7000

toll free 855.390.5566

Many times, people are either busy or uncomfortable with death to sit down and write even a simple last will and testament, often referred to as simply a “will.”  When someone dies without a will in Alabama, it is called “intestate succession.”  But an easier way to sum this up is to ask, “What happens if there is no will in Alabama?”

This situation is more common than you might think.  If you die in Alabama without a will, your assets will go to your closest relatives.  Not all assets are involved — only those that would have passed through a will are affected by Alabama’s intestate succession laws.  Usually that includes only assets that you own in your own name.

Who gets what depends on your family and whether you have living children, parents or other immediate relatives when you die. Here are some examples:

  • If you die with a spouse but no children – Spouse inherits everything.
  • If you die with children but no spouse – Children inherit everything.
  • If you die with spouse and surviving children that belong to you and that spouse — Spouse inherits the first $50,000 of your intestate property, plus one half of the balance of your intestate property after the first $50,000.  Children inherit remaining intestate property.
  • If you die with a spouse and children who are NOT that spouse’s children – Spouse inherits one half of the intestate property and children inherit the other half.
  • If you die with parents but no spouse or children – Parents inherit everything.
  • If you die with siblings but no spouse, children or parents – Siblings inherit everything.

Children Can Present a More Complicated Picture

When children are inheritors, the amount each child receives depends on the total number of children involved.  Things can get a little trickier, though, when there are stepchildren or adopted children involved.  Consider the following:

Foster children and stepchildren – Stepchildren you never legally adopted and foster children will not automatically inherit.

Adopted children – Children you legally adopted will receive a share equal to your biological children.

Children placed up for adoption – If you gave up a child or children for adoption and they were legally adopted by another family, they will not receive a share.  However, if they were legally adopted by your spouse then they will inherit just as biological children would.

Children born outside of marriage – If you were not married to your children’s mother when she gave birth to them, they can receive a share of estate IF they can legally prove your paternity either before or after your death.

Children born during your marriage – Any children born to your wife during your marriage are assumed to be your children and will inherit a share of your estate.

Posthumous children – Any children conceived by you but born after your death will receive a share of your intestate property.

Grandchildren – A grandchild receives a share of your property only if their parent is deceased before you die.

If you find all of this pretty complicated, you are not alone.  A skilled attorney can help.  To speak to lawyers to help with intestate succession, contact Caldwell Wenzel Asthana Law Firm at (251) 444-7000.  Our attorneys have decades of experience sorting out inheritance issues with families just like yours.  We would be glad to have a conversation with you and answer your questions.

Are There Other Issues That Affect Who Inherits If There Is No Will in Alabama?

Yes, there are.  Many coveted and valuable assets are not part of a will in Alabama and are therefore not affected by the intestate succession laws highlighted above.  These are often financial and real estate assets that stand separately and have their own beneficiaries.  Examples of these include:

  • Funds in a 401(k), IRA, pension, or other retirement accounts
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Real property you co-own with someone else
  • Payable-on-death checking and savings accounts at banks
  • Property you’ve transferred to a living trust
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account.

All of these assets are governed by the documents and plans themselves and proceeds will pass to beneficiaries you have stipulated in writing or to surviving co-owners, regardless of whether or not you have a will.  It is always a good idea to review and update the documents associated with these assets periodically to ensure that your named beneficiaries are up to date.

What If Someone Dies in Alabama Without a Will and Family Members Are at Odds?

This is when a lawyer really becomes important.  First, it is always wise to consult an attorney early in your planning process so that you have legal guidance when planning who will inherit your assets after you die.  If, on the other hand, you are a family member whose parent, spouse or sibling died without a will in Alabama, then you probably need your own personal attorney to look out for your interests.  This is particularly true in families that do not get along, are not speaking to each other, or are otherwise estranged.  Emotions can run high and arguments arise when there is a lot of uncertainty or bickering about what the decedent intended and why he or she may not have created a will.

Sometimes relationships can be spared, and families preserved if legal professionals sort out the intricacies of inheritance rather than family members – who are already grieving – debating and arguing about assets.  Hiring an attorney can often be the kindest thing to do for everyone involved.

If you have questions about what happens if someone dies in Alabama without a will, contact a lawyer today.  Our skilled and experienced attorneys at Caldwell Wenzel Asthana would be glad to help.  Call us at (251) 444-7000 for a free initial consultation.