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What will my spouse get if I do not finish my estate planning?

Most Oklahoma residents do not need to be convinced of how important it is to complete one's estate planning before it is too late. Whether it is the result of procrastination or a lack of education, though, many individuals never get around to completing the estate planning process. In such cases, interstate succession statutes exist to dictate what will happen to a person's estate and what his or her surviving spouse will receive in the event the individual dies without a will or estate plan on the books. 

The 1990 Uniform Probate Code is the basis on which most state succession laws are formed. Under this code, surviving spouses will receive all of a decedent's estate in the event that the decedent's children are also the children of the current spouse. That said, if there are no living children or grandchildren of the decedent, but his or her parents are still alive, then the surviving spouse will receive the first $200,000 of the estate, along with 75 percent of anything exceeding this amount. 

In cases in which there are children or grandchildren who belong to the surviving spouse and the decedent, and there are also children or grandchildren that do not belong to the surviving spouse, succession laws get a little more complicated. In these cases, the surviving spouse receives the first $150,000 of the estate, along with 50 percent of the assets that exceed this amount. If the surviving spouse was not the parent of any of the surviving children or grandchildren, then the spouse receives the first $100,000, plus 50 percent of assets that exceed that amount.

Because succession laws can be complicated and change in subtle ways from state to state, Oklahoma residents will want to familiarize themselves with the laws that apply to them specifically. Also, a couple will want to see how its unique family situation is affected by those laws. In some cases, it may be necessary to assert succession rights in court to ensure that beneficiaries are fairly treated in the event that a spouse passes away without completing his or her estate planning.

Source: FindLaw, "Understanding Intestacy: If You Die Without an Estate Plan", March 4, 2015

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