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Why Do People Die Intestate, When a Basic Will is Easy to Prepare? 


Going through the estate planning process allows a person to take control and decide who is going to act for them if death or disability occurs, and who gets your possessions when you die. But, only if, this is done before there is a disability or death. An intestate probate is not the place that any person wants to find themselves in, which is what happens when their loved one couldn’t take the time to put their affairs in order.  Intestate succession is a statute provided method where the state tries to provide an equitable distribution of your possessions to your next of kin and prioritize who should act for your estate. 

With a few important exceptions, the main ones being community property and minor children, a person is free to leave their possessions to whomever or whatever organization they wish in a will.  A will is a pretty straightforward document indicating who gets your stuff and who do you trust to carry the instructions in your will. Then you can add layers of conditions of how they get your stuff and when they get your stuff, if so desired.  

Holographic wills are allowed in Arizona and in California.  Holographic wills are when a person sits down and write outs, yes handwriting on paper with pen, their will.  They need to sign and date it, be at least 18 and have mental capacity when writing it.  That’s it!  Now it might not be a very well written will, creating some issues for the court to figure out, but at least you haven’t died intestate.  It’s even better if the holographic will is witnessed and/or notarized but a holographic will doesn’t require that to be valid. 

This begs the question, why do so many people die without a will in place? AARP estimated in 2017 that 60% of the American adult population doesn’t have a will.  The laws are doing everything possible to make it easy for people to write down what they want to have happen with their possessions when they die, but they don’t.   There are many famous examples including Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Prince, who died intestate and their heirs fought for years or are still fighting, eating up vast amounts of money.  But the vast majority of the population aren’t rock stars, but rather ordinary people, who leave a big headache for their loved ones when they pass.  

My hunch is that people think they won’t die or won’t die before they get their estate planning done.  Ironically, death is the only thing we can actually be certain of and few of us ever know when it is coming.   

I strongly encourage everyone I know to go to see an attorney and put together their estate plan. But if not an attorney, at least sit down and write out a will by hand, sign and date it and let your family members know where it is. I believe it is one of the most loving acts you can do for your family. 

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