Many married couples in Arizona think that if one of them dies without a will, the other will inherit everything from the deceased spouse. That is indeed true most of the time, but not in the case of a blended family. Whether you intend to or not, if you fail to do some kind of estate planning, you could end up disinheriting your spouse to some extent.
Dying without a will is called dying "intestate". When a person dies without a will, state law determines who inherits. Those laws are sometimes referred to as the rules of "intestate succession". The rules of intestate succession vary widely and the results in some cases can be truly surprising.
Take for example the "new normal" blended family consisting of mom, dad, a couple of minor children of the marriage and a couple of children from previous relationships. Many married couples under these circumstances would want the spouse to inherit 100% because he or she is going to need all of the deceased spouse's resources (and then some, usually) to raise the children to maturity.
However, that would not be the case in Arizona (see chart below). In Arizona, unless the deceased spouse had a will that provided otherwise (or did a trust-based estate plan), the surviving spouse in a blended family would NOT inherit 100% of the decedent's estate. The deceased spouse's children would inherit half of the deceased spouse's estate. That could leave the surviving spouse seriously strapped for money.
The funds inherited by the children usually end up in some kind of court-supervised, blocked account. The intent is to keep the children's inheritance safe and intact until they reach the age of majority. If the surviving spouse wants access to any of those funds, he or she must petition the court for permission. The custodian of the account (who may or may not be the surviving spouse) must provide regular accountings to the court.
If you want to make things easy on your surviving spouse and ensure that he or she inherits everything, you might need a will or a trust to accomplish that, depending on where you live and your individual circumstances.
Take a look at the chart below for a sampling of the laws of intestate succession in Arizona for the disposition of estates when there is a surviving spouse. You might find the result surprising.
If you die with Here's Who Inherits in Arizona
Spouse but no descendants or parents Spouse inherits everything
Spouse and descendants from you and that spouse Spouse inherits everything
Spouse and descendants from you and someone
other than spouse Spouse gets ½ of your separate property and ½ of your interest in the community property; balance to children
Spouse and parents, no descendants Spouse inherits everything
If the result does not work for you, give us a call at 931-250-8585. We can help you get your affairs in order to achieve the result that you desire.
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