Statute of Intestate Succession. Just reading those words will put most non-lawyers to sleep but it is a large topic we will eventually explore in greater depth. Laugh if you want but it can be surprisingly interesting. Today, nothing more than an introduction.

Like other states, Illinois has a statute of intestate succession. This merits a plain English explanation because it sounds like gibberish. Illinois wants property to be transferred in an orderly fashion. If someone were to die without leaving a valid will, who should inherit the decedent’s property? The decedent’s parents? The decedent’s children? Why not a stranger? Should disagreements be decided by a game of Rock/Paper/Scissors? To prevent a free-for-all, Illinois has a law that determines exactly how to distribute the property of anyone who dies intestate (without a will). If you want to explore on your own, here is Illinois’ statute: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?ActID=2104&ChapterID=60&SeqStart=3700000&SeqEnd=5000000.

Consider this simple example of what would happen to a married couple without children. Property belonging to the spouse who dies first would pass to the surviving spouse. This is what most married people want to happen. Upon the death of the surviving spouse (also dying intestate), that property would pass to the surviving spouse’s family. New spouse, cousins, nephews five times removed – the statute determines the order with precision. The most likely unintended consequence, however, is that the first spouse’s family is disinherited.

The statute of intestate succession is a necessary measure to ensure order but it is a one size fits all solution. Understand also that the statute applies equally to people who are married or unmarried and to people with or without children.  Leaving a valid, carefully drafted will or a more comprehensive estate plan including both a will and a trust is the way to seize control and make one’s own decisions.