Useful information to help guide
your probate process

What Happens When Someone Passes Away Without a Will in Chicago?

Suppose that a person were to die unexpectedly in their thirties, when they’ve had time to build their wealth but long before most people think to begin the process of estate planning in earnest.

What would happen to this person’s estate, assuming that they passed without drawing up their last will and testament?

Dying without leaving behind a will is known as dying intestate, and it’s a more common occurrence than you might think.

In the Chicago area, there is a fairly straightforward process set into motion for handling intestate estates, the property, and assets left behind when an individual passes without any legally-binding guiding documents.

It all comes down to Illinois law, specifically the Illinois Probate Act, which offers directions for what happens to an estate with no will. A few things to keep in mind…

An Administrator Must Be Named

Generally, when a person passes away with a will in place, the decedent names the executor of their estate, or the person tasked with overseeing the distribution of their assets, the handling of their debts, and other important matters.

When an individual dies without naming an executor, the Probate Act calls for the court to appoint an administrator. There are certain requirements for who may be named as an administrator (i.e., at least 18 years of age, of sound mind, not convicted of a felony), and a distinct order for who will be called to serve. Generally, preference goes to:

  1. Surviving spouse
  2. Legatees
  3. Children of the deceased
  4. Grandchildren
  5. Surviving parents
  6. Brothers and sisters

… and so on. If the decedent has no kin to serve as an administrator, the responsibility may eventually pass back to a public administrator, appointed by the court.

In Illinois, it is required for there to be a surety bond in place in order to ensure that the appointed administrator fully performs their duties on behalf of the estate. Heirs of the estate must also be notified by anyone petitioning to be named administrator of an intestate estate, so that they may get the opportunity to raise any objections about a potential administrator before the administration process begins in earnest.

Estate Distributions Follow Strict Protocols

When someone passes away with a will in place, they may name their beneficiaries as they see fit. An individual who dies without a will leaves behind no such last wishes that must be followed.

Instead, the estate is subject to the priority of distributions as set down in the Probate Act.

If survived by a spouse and descendants, then half of the probate estate goes to the spouse and half to the children. If there is no surviving spouse, then the entire estate goes to the children; if there is a surviving spouse and no descendants (including grandchildren), then the spouse collects the entire estate.

If the decedent is not survived by a spouse or any descendants, then the probate estate is divided equally among any surviving parents and siblings. If the deceased isn’t survived by any parents or siblings, then the estate passes to their extended family members, half to the maternal side, and half to the paternal side (with additional caveats in place).

If none of these family members survive the deceased person, then the estate goes to the nearest known living relatives. If no known heirs can be determined or located, then the entire estate, finally, escheats to the government.

Suffice it to say, this process can prove tricky. As problems arise, both commonplace and extraordinary, an administrator may wish to bring on an experienced professional to help guide them through the probate process with compassion, clarity, and insight.

If you have any questions or concerns about handling an intestate estate in the Chicagoland area, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team today.

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