We handle a fair amount of Probate. But one of the things I would be happy not to have to do any more is Intestate Probate. Intestate Probate is what we must do when someone dies without a Will. The two things that a Will does is: it names not only to whom things go (and eliminates the people who should not be beneficiaries) but also states who is in charge. That person in charge is typically called an Executor. An Executor has complete authority to manage the assets and disburse the assets, as directed by the Will. The court gives a lot of deference to the Executor unless there is evidence of fraud or negligence, and so the Executor is not easily hampered from his or her duties by contentious heirs. In contrast, in an Intestate Estate every heir is a beneficiary and any one of those heirs can ask to be the administrator or representative. Even worse, contentious heirs can, and usually do, make the job of the Executor or Administrator very difficult.
People who think they will save money by not doing a Will naively assume everything will just go easily; and always say, “I have nothing to fight over.” Wrong! There is nothing simple about intestate probate. Every heir is a beneficiary, and there is always someone who fights over something and says the administrator is mishandling things. Because of that common occurrence, in an Intestate Estate the court requires a lot more documentation. Contentious heirs make a lot more work for everyone and increases costs and headaches. Typical costs in our office for simple probate is usually around $2,500, and the executor’s fees are usually low. But intestate probate is much more involved, more difficult, takes longer, and our fees alone are usually closer to $5,000. If the court appoints a third party administrator then their fees are often quite high. So intestate probate is far more than double the price of paying for a simple Will plus the cost of regular testate probate combined!
There is one New Year’s resolution everyone needs to do: get a current and properly executed Will. It is the gift that keeps on giving.