Over sixty percent of Americans have not made a will. If you are one of those people, or if you know someone who is, it is useful for you to understand what happens when a person who lives in Kansas or who owns property in Kansas dies without a will. When there is not a valid will, the fate of that person’s estate is spelled out in the Kansas probate code. More specifically, it is spelled out in the Kansas intestate succession laws.
The fate of an estate that is distributed by the Kansas probate court according to the laws of intestate succession can be simple or complex, depending upon who survived the deceased and what the financial situation of the deceased was at the time of their death. First’ we’ll take a look at who stands to inherit all or part of the decedent’s estate. Then, we’ll examine what happens to the assets in the estate before those who are to inherit the estate take possession of their share of it.
One of the most straightforward scenarios in intestate succession happens when a married person who has no children dies. In that situation, the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate. If the decedent’s spouse and at least one of their children survive them, the spouse inherits half of the decedent’s estate, and the other half is distributed amongst the children (or amongst the children and the children’s descendants if one or more of the decedent’s children did not survive them) per stirpes. The term per stirpes describes a system of distribution in which inherit is divided among branches of a family instead of per capita, which means “to each individual.” If the decedent’s spouse died before they did and one or more children are surviving, the children and the descendants of the decedent’s predeceased children will inherit the entire estate per stirpes.
Kansas intestacy law recognizes that not every intestate estate falls into one of the three scenarios described above. In cases that don’t fit the situations mentioned above, surviving parents are first in line to inherit the estate, and they will do so in equal shares. If there are no surviving parents, the deceased siblings or the descendants of their deceased siblings inherit the estate per stirpes. Finally, if no surviving family members exist, the decedent’s estate escheats to the state of Kansas, which means that the state of Kansas gets the decedent’s entire estate, subject to the inheritance process described below.
Once it is determined who will inherit a decedent’s estate after they die without a will, there’s one more step that takes place before the beneficiaries receive their shares of the estate. This step is that the estate goes through the probate process. Only assets that are part of an individual’s probate estate go through the probate process. Some assets, such as investment accounts, pass outside of probate to named beneficiaries. When the contents of an individual’s probate estate go through probate, the assets are used to pay debts that the decedent owed at the time they died, as well as any taxes that the decedent owed when they died. After payment of debts and taxes is complete, if there’s something left in the estate, it gets divided according to the aforementioned laws of intestate succession.
If you have questions about the Kansas probate process or about estate planning in Kansas, schedule an initial consultation with Wichita attorney J. Joseph Weber today, by calling our office at 316-265-7802, or by contacting us through our website.