What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Maine?

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Did you know that Maine generates more lobster sales than any other state? The Maine Lobster is known for its large meaty claws and sweet, tender meat.

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Now that we have your (or your stomach's) attention, we can discuss a more serious subject. While Maine may be generating more seafood than other states, it is not generating more wills than other states. A will is a legal document that explains your wishes after you are gone. The will can direct who you want to be in charge of your estate and how you want to distribute your property. 

Not everyone needs a will. If you are wondering if you need a will, then you should talk to an estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney can answer your questions and advise how to proceed with your end-of-life planning.

Maine's Intestacy Laws Explained

If a person dies without a will, they are said to have died "intestate." Each state has its own set of laws directing what will happen to a person's property if they die without a will. These laws are called "intestacy laws." If a person dies without a will in Maine, Maine's intestacy laws will determine what happens to their property. 

How Does Probate Work in Maine If There Is No Will?

After a person dies, their property and assets are called their estate. "Probate" is the legal process of distributing the estate. If you die without a will in Maine, the state will allocate your estate according to Maine's intestacy laws, using probate.

Keep in mind that not all property is subject to probate. Property that automatically transfers upon the death of its owner – e.g., an individual retirement account (IRA) that must have a designated person named – and/or property held in trust is not subject to probate.

Each county in Maine has its own probate court that handles the probate process. If you want to start the probate process without a will, you must file a petition regarding intestacy and appoint a personal representative. You file the petition in the probate court where the deceased resided. 

If the court grants the petition, then you become the personal representative. The personal representative administers the deceased's estate, including paying any outstanding debts and distributing the estate's property per Maine's intestacy laws. 

Who Typically Inherits Assets in Maine If There Isn't a Will?

When talking about inheritance, some legal terms are important to know, including the following:

  • "The decedent" is the deceased person.
  • Their "descendants" or "issue" are those in their linear bloodline, including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.
  • In Maine, "heirs" are "those persons, including the surviving spouse, who are entitled under the statutes of intestate succession to the property of a decedent.”
  • The decedent's estate passes by "intestate succession" to their heirs as provided by Maine's laws. 

Whether the deceased had a surviving spouse and/or descendants determines what a person can inherit. If a spouse survives the deceased, then the spouse will inherit the entire estate if either is true:

  • The deceased left no children, grandchildren, or parents behind.
  • All of the deceased’s children are children of the surviving spouse, and that spouse has no descendants from a different partnership.

If the deceased and their surviving spouse have no descendants, but a parent survives them, the surviving spouse gets the first $300,000, plus three-fourths of any balance of the intestate estate.

Suppose all of the deceased's surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse, and the surviving spouse has one or more descendants from another partner. In that case, the surviving spouse gets the first $100,000, plus one-half of the rest of the estate's balance. 

If there are surviving descendants, one or more of whom are not descendants of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse inherits one-half of the estate.

If there is no surviving spouse or any part of the estate is not going to the surviving spouse, the state allocates the estate according to an order of priority. The deceased's descendants get first priority. If there are no descendants, then it goes to the deceased's parents, then to their siblings, and so on. 

Does reading any of the above make you feel like you are reading a riddle or a very difficult tongue twister? Don't worry! You are not alone. Intestacy laws can be complex and challenging to understand.

If you have questions about who may or may not inherit under Maine's intestacy laws, then you should contact a probate attorney licensed in Maine. The probate attorney can answer your questions and help you navigate through the probate process. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in Maine

No matter how much planning someone does or does not do, death can still leave loved ones with many unanswered questions. While we cannot answer all of the questions surrounding death, we can answer some frequently asked questions about dying without a will in Maine. 

What happens when your parent dies without a will?

It can be hard to think about losing a parent. But if your parent dies without a will, then your next steps will depend on whether they have a surviving spouse and whether you want to participate in the administration of the estate. If they have a surviving spouse, either you or the surviving spouse can file a petition regarding intestacy and appoint a personal representative. 

Once a personal representative is appointed, then the administration of the estate can begin. Administration is not just about distributing property -- there's a lot more involved in the probate process. It may include paying outstanding bills, hiring an expert to help with a valuation, or providing legal advice.

If your parent dies without a will, you may be entitled to inherit a portion of the estate. As discussed above, your inheritance will depend on whether your parent had a surviving spouse and whether your parent's descendants are also descendants of their surviving spouse. If you and your siblings have the same parents (the deceased and their surviving spouse), you will inherit nothing because the surviving spouse inherits everything.

However, there are many situations where you would be entitled to inherit some portion of your deceased parent's estate, some of which we discussed in the previous section.

What are a surviving spouse's rights if there's no will?

It is hard to think about losing a parent, and it is also hard to think about losing a spouse. Do you know your rights if you lose a spouse and they did not leave a will? The estate may or may not need to go through probate depending on whether your spouse owns property and what type of property.

If your spouse dies without a will, and there is a probate estate, you or another interested party will need to begin the probate process. As the surviving spouse, you will have priority in the appointment of a personal representative. 

If you decide to initiate the probate process, you would first file a petition regarding intestacy and appoint a personal representative. If the personal representative is you, then you would begin the process of administering the estate. 

If there is no will, then as the surviving spouse, your inheritance rights are dictated by Maine laws. As you read in the previous section, you may be entitled to inherit the entire estate. Your rights will depend on whether your spouse has surviving relatives, including parents and descendants. Depending on your circumstances, you may only get a portion of the estate. 

You do not have to leave your rights up to Maine's laws. You can begin your end-of-life planning right now by using the Cake planning platform for proactive planning. 

How do you become an executor of an estate without a will in Maine?

A personal representative has many names, including "executor," "administrator," "successor personal representative," or "special administrator." If a person has a will, they can name their executor in their will. When the person dies, the executor then petitions the court, and the court will most likely appoint them as executor.

If a person dies without a will, you still need someone to be an administrator for the estate. The process is very similar, except the deceased no longer selects their executor. Instead, the executor is petitioning the court on their own, and the court will appoint the executor based on priority.

If you wish to be the executor of an estate that doesn’t have a will in Maine, you must first file a petition regarding intestacy and appoint a personal representative. In the petition, you will have to describe your relationship with the deceased and name anyone who may have a prior or equal right to appointment. A bond may also be required. 

If you want to become an executor of an estate without a will in Maine, you should first research what your role and responsibilities would be. Your duties would include the following:

  • Taking possession or control of the decedent's property.
  • Paying taxes and taking all reasonable necessary steps for the estate's management, protection, and preservation.
  • Filing a lawsuit to recover possession of property or determine the property's title.

Who is considered next of kin in Maine?

Next of kin can have many definitions and can vary from state to state, but it generally means a person's closest living relatives. Some states no longer use the term next of kin.

In Maine, intestacy laws list next of kin with other words, including the following: 

  • Heirs
  • Heirs at law
  • Relatives
  • Family

If you recall from our earlier discussion, in Maine, heirs are "those persons, including the surviving spouse, who are entitled under the statutes of intestate succession to the property of a decedent." Remember that this definition may not always include the surviving spouse. If the surviving spouse is "living but is remarried at the time the disposition is to take effect in possession or enjoyment, the surviving spouse is not an heir of the designated individual."

If you believe that you are next of kin and may have rights under Maine's intestacy laws, contact a Maine probate attorney. When dealing with intestacy matters, time is of the essence.

What do you want to happen when you die?

There are few things in life that you can control. In death, there are even fewer. One thing that you can control is how you distribute your property after your death.

If you are ready to begin your end-of-life planning, you can use the Cake planning platform to navigate the process. Use the website to create and save documents that explain your decisions. If you are unsure where to start, you may need to meet with an estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney can answer your questions and advise you on what tools may best meet your needs. 

The sooner you complete your end-of-life planning, the sooner you can get back to enjoying your life. Including experiencing all of the delicious seafood Maine has to offer.

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