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The Time and Expense of Having No Will

People will sometimes ask me why they need a will if they don’t have any probate assets.  This might be because they believe everything is owned jointly with right of survivorship or because they own nothing.  It usually turns out, however, that they do own something.  It might be a car that is titled in the name of the decedent or refund checks issued after death, such as unearned premiums or tax rebate checks.  Having a will makes it a whole lot easier to administer these assets.

As I have written about in previous posts, a typical will designates an executor who usually serves without the requirement to post a bond.  The bond acts as an insurance policy to insure the creditors and heirs receive what they are entitled to.

When there is no will, an administrator must be appointed and a bond posted.  That can pose a problem in terms of time and cost.  First of all, it must be determined who has a right to serve as administrator.  All people with equal or greater right to serve must sign a renunciation agreeing not to serve in favor of the person applying for the appointment.  If they will not or cannot sign, then a court proceeding by way of an order to show cause must be filed and heard by a judge who will then determine the person to be appointed.

Secondly, the amount of the bond must be determined by the court.  This requires some estimate of the size of the estate supported by as much proof as possible.  The greater the estate value the bigger the bond but it’s not always easy to provide sufficient documentation to satisfy the court.  In many cases the proposed administrator doesn’t have a complete picture.

All this makes the process of administering an estate without a will more time consuming and expensive than probating a will because all Surrogate and/or court requirements must be met.  So whenever someone says that they have no assets or they see no need for a will, or they want to save the cost of having a will prepared, my answer is that choosing this route will probably cost their heirs more time, expense and aggravation in the long run than having a will drawn by an attorney with experience in estate planning.