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Many people die without a will (“intestate”) because they frankly see no reason for having one. The attitude is “everything I have will go to my husband/wife and kids, which is what I want anyway, so I don’t need a will.” Here is a cautionary tale of where that can lead.

In 1925, a local farmer died intestate, leaving behind a wife (his second) and thirteen children. Under the law in effect at that time, one-third of the family farm went to his widow and the other two-thirds passed to his children in equal shares. The widow died some thirty years later, also without a will. Her one-third of the property passed, by operation of law, to her children.

Virtually all of the children of the farmer (four by wife number one, nine by wife number two) died without wills. One of them left nine children. By 2003, when the last of the farmer’s children died, there were 47 heirs with possible claims to the farm, scattered across the country from Oregon to Florida. When a granddaughter sought to quiet title to the property, all the potential claimants had to be located and named in a suit to determine ownership. Letters and phone calls ensued, internet searches were conducted, death records reviewed, and court records searched. Some of the heirs simply could not be found. Notice of the suit had to be published, so that they might be found that way. There were judgments against some of the potential heirs, and all the creditors had to be named in the suit, as well. In all, the lawsuit named 82 potential claimants to the property. The process servers’ bills alone were enormous. In the end, only four heirs answered the complaint, and title was eventually quieted. It was a protracted and expensive proposition.

Ah, but what a pair of wills might have done. The farmer could have left the farm to his wife outright. The wife’s will could have directed that the farm be sold and the proceeds divided amongst the children. Any one of a number of scenarios might have been directed. With a will, there would have been an executor charged with seeing to the orderly disposition of the property in accordance with the decedent’s wishes. It is difficult to imagine that the farmer or his wife would have wished for a protracted lawsuit, two generations later, to determine who owns the family farm. But that is what happened for want of a will.

Call Taroff Taitz about your probate issues.

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