Why You Shouldn't Hide a Will

It makes an excellent movie screenplay: the elderly man hides his will and sends his children on a quest to retrieve it. The last words on his lips as he lies in bed are a clue. Then the search is underway. Yet while this may be an interesting story to watch from a plush red seat with a popcorn in one hand and a soda in the other, it's not a script you want to live out. In fact, no one wants to go out searching for a will. In reality, a probate court will divide a decedent's assets and consider the hidden will invalid if it is not found within short order. The situation will become an intestate probate procedure. This is the same process that happens when a person perishes without any valid will. In this case, the state will use succession laws to determine who gets what of the estate.

In an intestate will situation, the beneficiaries will be ranked according to their closeness in relation to the decedent. The deceased person's spouse would become the first heir to all assets, and after that the assets would go to any children present. If no children are alive, the fortune would be passed to parents, followed by brothers and sisters and their lineal descendants. After that, grandparents and their legal descendants take preference, and after that the next of kin will be given all assets. When the next of kin cannot be found, and no relations are present to speak for the inheritance, then the law states that the fortune will be presented as an escheat to the state.

When a decedent does not leave a spouse behind, and there is more than one child who should benefit from the inheritance, states use one of two methods to divide the estate. In some cases, a state may use the per capita form of distribution. In a per capita distribution, each descendant takes an equal share of the assets. In some cases, this may mean equally dividing assets between children and grandchildren. In a per stirpes distribution, each descendant takes a share of the assets by the right of representation. Basically, in this case a descendant's share is determined by the share that his or her ancestor would have been entitled to. Per stirpes distribution is generational. If a father perishes and has 4 sons, but only 3 survive him, then the three sons would each be entitle to their 1/4th of the will, but the children of the deceased, 4th son will receive his portion.

When it comes to step-children, and other half-blood relatives, each state takes their own stance. Some states recognize step-siblings as legitimate heirs and would give them the same inheritance as a full sibling would receive. In other states, half-siblings are given a half interest into the inheritance. Non-marital children or illegitimate children may benefit from an intestate estate, depending on the situation at hand. In many cases, the probate court will decide this depending on which parent passed away. For example, if a mother passes away, her illegitimate child will probably be given an inheritance because there is no doubt of the maternal relationship. When a father passes away, proving illegitimate children is more difficult.

When it comes to adopted children, they have a full right to inherit from the legally adoptive parents. Yet at that time, the child is cut off from inheriting from his or her biological parents in an intestate estate. One of the only exceptions to this rule is when a child is adopted by the spouse of a biological parent. In these cases, he or she may still be able to inherit from the other parent in an intestate estate. In conclusion, it is always best to prepare a will for the future and file it with the probate court. Do not hide your will somewhere where it is difficult to locate, because the court will probably discard that a will was ever written and divide your estate according to this manner.