Don’t let family drama disrupt your estate plans – Why you need a will (Part 1)

May 18, 2022

It had been 15 years since anybody in the family had seen or heard from Cousin Faye.  But when Auntie Paula died, there she was sitting on the front row at the funeral.  Wearing a black dress and a black veil and crying her eyes out as if she had been there all along for her mother.  Where was Faye when Auntie Paula first got sick?  She didn’t even bother to visit her in the hospital.  And when Auntie Paula passed away, nobody could find a working number for Faye so that they could call and give her the news. 

But somehow, she managed to find about the funeral and had the nerve to show up.  And everybody in the family knew why.  Since Faye was Auntie Paula’s only child, she was there to claim everything of value that her mother had left behind and then disappear back to whatever life she had been living since she left years ago.

After the funeral, the family sat around Auntie Paula’s table enjoying a good meal and reminiscing on the good times they had with her.  During a brief, quiet moment, Faye spoke up.  “I’ve met with an attorney.  We’re going to probate my mother’s estate and have me appointed as the administrator.  I’m selling the house, and since I am her only heir, everything she owned goes to me.”  Michelle, one of Paula’s nieces, whom Paula had raised (but never adopted) since Michelle was 5 after her mother passed away, jumped up, crying, “you’ve never done a thing for Momma!  You don’t have a right to anything that she had!”  Another family member spoke up in agreement with Michelle and within seconds the entire dining room was in an uproar.  How dare she?! What right did Faye have to appear out of nowhere and expect to receive anything from a mother whom she had not so much as sent a text message to in 15 years? 

As it turns out, in the State of Georgia, if Auntie Paula died without a will, Faye had every (legal) right to her mother’s entire estate.  If Auntie Paula was not married at the time of her death, and Faye was her only legal child, then according to state law, no one else, not even Michelle who stayed by Auntie Paula’s side until the very end, was legally entitled to receive anything from Auntie Paula’s estate.  The law is blind. It deals with straight facts.  When there’s no will (or other estate plan in place), the only question is “who are the heirs at law?”  They split everything.  Evenly. Period. 

Fortunately, everyone has a chance to prevent what can sometimes seem to be an unfair result.  Having a will allows you to determine in advance who inherits what from your estate when you pass away.  And fortunately, in the case of Auntie Paula’s family, Michelle thought to check Auntie Paula’s “church purse” before Faye got her hands on it.  In it she found Auntie Paula’s will.  And that changed everything.

To find out how the will changed everything, make sure to check out the next blog post.