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What Happens If You Do Not Leave a Will?

A recent news article discusses Mary Petroff of Granite City, who died at the age of 97 without a will. Her estate was worth $1.3 million dollars. Petroff was born to Bulgarian parents and raised in Granite City. She never married and never had any children. For much of her life, she lived with her unmarried sister. They both lived frugally and invested their money. Petroff inherited her sister’s estate upon her death. Three years later, Petroff died without planning her estate.

Some have suggested that Petroff did not intend to end her life without a will, but rather, her mental facilities declined due to her age. A will requires that one is of “sound mind” when writing a will. Sometimes wills are contested on the basis that someone is not of “sound mind” when the will was written. A notable example involves the will of the writer Gore Vidal, who died in 2012, leaving about $37 million dollars to Harvard University, even though Vidal never attended any university. Some relatives are claiming that he was going through dementia when he updated the will in 2011.

If you know the meaning and effect of a will, and if you know what things you own and know the people that you are leaving things to, then you can generally have a will written up for you. However, some do not pass this test due to injury or advanced age.

What Happens if You Die Without Writing a Will?

Mary Petroff’s case is different from some cases because she did not leave a will, children or an appointed heir. As such, her money must be safeguarded with the Madison County Treasurer’s office until a relative claims the money. If a proven relative does not claim the money within ten years, then the money is considered unclaimed property and given to the state. Currently, dozens of Bulgarians are claiming to be Petroff’s near or distant cousins. Without a clear will, her estate could inspire a long, drawn-out battle over her inheritance.

State law can vary, but in most states, the property will go to the immediate family or other closest relative, if a will is not left to say otherwise. In addition, a court will determine custody if someone dies without a will and has left young parentless children behind.

Need an Estate Plan?

At MacDonald, Lee & Senechalle, Ltd. we suggest that you do not let this happen to you. You do not want to leave behind a confusing and stressful situation when you are gone, especially if you have specific family or friends to whom you wish to leave money or other property. Find a lawyer to help build an estate plan that is tailored to your specific desires. If you live in Hoffman Estates, Des Plaines or nearby and you need a will, living trust or other estate plan, then contact our Illinois estate plan lawyers today.

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