When a person dies (the decedent), a major concern for those surviving the decedent is how to distribute the decedent’s property, or the estate. An age-old problem, this issue has mattered greatly in the past, and it still does. Accordingly, the law has developed to govern not only how the decedent’s personal property and real property is distributed to heirs but also how important privileges as well as debts and other responsibilities are passed down to later generations.
Because this issue reaches into ancient times and the consequences of inheritance can be so important, there is an enormous body of statutory and case law relating to “who gets what” when some-one dies. There are several key components to these laws. For example, there are laws about wills, trusts, and other methods of leaving property in addition to wills, jurisdiction of probate courts, qualifications and duties of executors of wills, and estate and inheritance taxes. Tax consequences for the estate and heirs are important considerations when individuals plan their estates. Whether individuals die with a will or intestate, there are tax consequences for estates and potentially for those who would inherit property according to the laws of intestacy. The negative tax consequences and other potentially unintended consequences that can flow from dying intestate are major reasons that prompt people to create wills.