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What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Beneficiary?

Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC Dec. 26, 2023

Women holding hands of her husband who died in hospitalIt's a question that raises numerous concerns and can leave you feeling uncertain about the future—what happens when you die without a designated beneficiary? It can turn into a complicated process requiring legal intervention. And that's the last thing anyone wants to deal with after losing a loved one. So we're here to walk you through what you need to know. And if you need a probate attorney, we're just a phone call away.  

When a Loved One Passes Away Without Having Designated a Beneficiary

Here in Wisconsin, we're typically required to go through the probate process to distribute assets when no beneficiary is named. Probate is the legal procedure of verifying and admitting a will to estate administration in court. 

The personal representative, who we used to refer to as the executor, named in the will, works with the court to ensure this process is completed. This can take a year or more, depending on the complexity of the estate.  

The Difference Between an Executor and a Beneficiary 

When it comes to estate planning, understanding the roles of a personal representative and a beneficiary is crucial. They both play significant parts in the process, but their responsibilities and involvements are quite different. 

As the personal representative, you're the one who's in charge of administering the deceased's estate. This role typically involves a variety of tasks. You'll be locating and taking inventory of all of the estate's assets, reaching out to creditors and beneficiaries, and making sure any debts and taxes are paid off using the estate's funds. It's also your job to ensure that the remaining assets are distributed correctly to the heirs, all while working closely with the court throughout the probate process. 

On the other hand, a beneficiary doesn't have these responsibilities. If you are a beneficiary, you're named in a will or trust to receive certain assets from the estate. Your role doesn't involve working with the court or managing the estate's affairs. Instead, you simply receive the assets that have been designated to you, but this only happens after the estate has paid off any debts and taxes from the estate. 

What the Probate Process Looks Like With No Beneficiary

When someone passes away without naming a beneficiary or dies intestate, the probate process can look a little different. In these situations, state law steps in to determine how the deceased's property should be distributed. 

First, the court will appoint a personal representative. If the deceased didn't name a personal representative in their will or if they died intestate, the court usually chooses a surviving spouse or a close family member to serve in this role. 

The personal representative has a lot responsibilities, they must locate all the assets in the estate, take stock of them, and assess their value. They also have to notify creditors of the decedent's death and give them a specific timeframe to make a claim for payment. 

Before anything is distributed to the heirs, the personal representative must ensure that all outstanding debts and taxes are paid from the estate's funds.

So, while the probate process may seem daunting when there's no beneficiary, remember that there are procedures in place to manage the fair distribution of your loved one's estate. But to protect your best interests and the legacy of your loved one, we strongly recommend seeking support from a probate or estate lawyer.  

The Role of a Probate Attorney

If you find yourself grappling with a situation where someone has died without naming a beneficiary, it's crucial to consider hiring a probate attorney. An experienced probate attorney can guide you through this process, helping you complete all of the necessary steps.  

In Wisconsin, any estate worth more than $50,000 must go through the probate process. For estates below this threshold, assets can be distributed by the executor without involving the courts. Most counties require probate to be completed within 12-18 months after the person's date of death. This timeline may seem daunting, but with the right legal guidance, you navigate it smoothly. 

Contact a Lawyer Today

When you're faced with the complex probate process and the challenges of distributing assets without a beneficiary, it's crucial to have knowledgeable attorneys on your side. We at Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC are a trusted law firm based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, serving clients throughout Brown, Oconto, Shawano, Kewaunee, and Door Counties. With over twenty-five years of experience in bankruptcy, estate planning, business law, and probate law, we're here to help. 

We believe in providing personalized service and clear communication to guide our clients through the probate process. Our understanding of the importance of attention to detail and tailoring solutions to meet individual needs sets us apart. Whether you're dealing with serious financial circumstances or planning for your family's future, our experienced attorneys can help you make informed decisions and achieve favorable results. 

If you need assistance with probate estate administration or any aspect of estate planning, don't hesitate to contact us at Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC. Our team of dedicated attorneys is ready to provide the legal guidance and support you need during this challenging time.