If you die without a will in Arkansas, laws say that you have died intestate. Without a will, judges must determine how to distribute your estate to your heirs using default probate rules. Your survivors will not have as much control over the distribution of assets and named heirs upon your passing if you don’t have a will or living trust.
In this post, a Fort Smith estate planning attorney explains what happens if you die without a will in Arkansas, including general intestate succession laws, heirs, assets, and more.
How Arkansas Intestate Succession Laws Work
Arkansas’s intestacy law determines who will inherit your assets when you do not have a will, while probate laws determine how they will be transferred. Generally, if someone dies with a will, a court has to supervise the distribution of an estate via the probate process. Dying without a will does not mean you get out of notifying family members and creditors. It just means that instead of interpreting the decedent’s will, the court will follow Arkansas’s intestacy laws to distribute the estate.
Small Estate Probates
If an estate is small enough, you do not need a court order before distributing that property to the right parties. If a spouse or parent dies without a will, for example, you will need to initiate probate proceedings and get a court order before you can distribute the property.
If a person’s assets fall below Arkansas’s small estates limit, you will not need to open probate proceedings to distribute the property. However, if the decedent’s assets are over this limit, you will need to start probate proceedings for distribution of the assets to those who stand to inherit.
Who Are the Heirs to an Estate Without a Will?
The heirs to an estate are typically descendants and other closely related family members. A descendant is almost always a blood relative, married, or adopted relative. When a person dies intestate, an heir refers to the person or persons who will inherit according to their order per state law. In Arkansas, this succession order is known as the Tables of Descents.
What Assets Don’t Need to be Probated Without a Will?
If you die intestate, legal options are available, but they will not offer your family complete discretion over asset bequeathments. Arkansas has established default inheritance rules in this event. Even in the absence of a will or if the decedent’s will is invalid, the decedent’s heirs can be determined, and the decedent’s estate can be probated.
Intestate succession laws apply only to assets that would have passed through a will. However, many valuable assets do not pass through a will and are not subject to intestate succession laws. Here are a few examples of assets that do not need to be probated if there is no will:
- Life insurance proceeds
- Living trust assets
- Payable on death accounts
- Property held in joint tenancy
- Retirement accounts
Regardless of whether a will is left, these assets will be distributed to the surviving beneficiary designated at the time of account opening. However, probate administration is necessary for real estate and personal property not owned by a trust.
Will the State of Arkansas Take My Property if I Die Intestate?
The State of Arkansas could take your property if you die without a will and no surviving family members or heirs exist. However, this situation is rare because statutes are written to ensure that your property passes on to your relatives. It’s much more likely that extended and distant relatives would receive your property before the state would be able to take ownership of it.
Why Should I Have a Will?
Arkansas has default rules intended to be used as a last resort if you fail to prepare a will, but preparing a will is a simple, quick way to ensure control over property distributions after your death.
Assuring that probate courts distribute your property according to your wishes is one of the most critical reasons to have a will. Appointing an executor to manage your affairs is also vital. Without a will, you will have no say over who becomes your personal representative.
A will can also appoint guardians for minor children, provide for the care of your pet after your death, and address other significant issues that may arise. Without a will, family members may disagree or argue over these critical issues, and you will have no say in the outcome.
Get Legal Advice from Milligan Law Offices
While the law does not require you to have an Arkansas estate planning lawyer, there are risks associated with “do-it-yourself” legal documents. The only way to be sure that your will accomplishes your objectives is to consult an experienced estate planning attorney. They can ensure that you have all the necessary estate planning documents you need to protect yourself during your lifetime and your family after your death.
The team at Milligan Law Offices can assist you with a broad range of estate planning and probate-related matters, including wills, trusts, and other critical documents. We serve clients throughout Arkansas and Oklahoma and invite you to contact us by phone at (479) 783-2213 or online through our contact form for an initial consultation.