Intestate Estates

When Someone Dies in Alabama Without a Last Will and Testament

My Relative Died Without a Will – What Do I Do?

If someone dies without leaving a will they are said to have died “intestate.”

Your first step will be to get appointed as the “administrator” of the estate.

To get appointed you will need to file a petition with the probate court (most likely with the probate court for the county in which the deceased last lived).  You will have to post a bond with the court, which is essentially insurance protecting the heirs of the estate in case of your mishandling of the assets.

After you are appointed you will need to collect the estate assets.

You will investigate the decedent’s assets, collect them, and itemize them in an inventory to be filed with the probate court.

You will also need to notify creditors of the decedent’s death.

There are two kinds of notice. First, a general notice will be published in a local newspaper. Second, the administrator is responsible for providing actual notice to known or ascertained creditors of the estate.  This is a simple letter notifying the creditor of the person’s death, your appointment as administrator, and the deadline for filing claims with the probate court.  Your attorney can help you prepare the notice letters.

Creditors have six months from the date that Letters of Administration are issued to you by the probate court to file their claims (although known creditors have additional time based on when you send them actual notice).

After the six months creditors’ claims period has run, you can pay estate debts that are due to be paid and can prepare the estate to be closed.

The process for closing an estate differs depending on several factors, but in general it involves providing an accounting to the court of the assets that have been collected, the debts that have been paid, and the heirs who will share in any assets that are leftover.

In many instances you can get the heirs of the estate to agree to close the estate without a hearing or a full accounting. If they do not all agree, the process can be a bit more complicated.

Alabama’s laws of “intestate succession” will apply to govern how an intestate person’s property is divided after his death.

If the person died with a spouse, then the spouse will receive:

  • The entire estate if the deceased person had no surviving issue (anyone who has “descended” from the decedent, including both natural and adopted children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.), or parents.
  • First $100,000.00, plus half of the balance of the estate if the deceased person left no surviving issue but did leave a surviving parent or parents.
  • First $50,000.00, plus half of the balance of the estate if there are surviving issue, all of whom are also issue of the surviving spouse.
  • Half of the estate if there are surviving issue who are not issue of the surviving spouse.

If the person died without a spouse, then his or her property passes according to the following priority:

  • Issue
  • Parents
  • Brothers and Sisters (or if all are deceased then to nieces and nephews)
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and Uncles
  • Cousins

If the person died without any “next of kin” and no will then his estate will “escheat” to his state of residence.

Should I Hire A Lawyer to Help With An Estate Administration in Alabama?

The estate administration process can be complex, and the probate court is not allowed to give you legal advice.  So, many people decide it’s best to hire a lawyer to guide them through the administration process.

A lawyer can work with you to make the estate administration as painless as possible.   The attorneys of Lewis, Lewis & Falkner are experienced in estate administrations and are ready to talk to you about your options.  Call us at 205-553-5353 or come by our Tuscaloosa office to find out what we can do to help you so that you can focus on what’s important – spending time with your family as you grieve the loss of your loved one.