What Happens If You Die Without a Will in New Hampshire?

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Did you know that the average life expectancy for the United States population in 2020 was 77 years? That means you have 77 years on average to decide what to do with your life.

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It also means that you have, on average, 77 years to decide if you need a will. A will is a legal document that directs your heirs on how to distribute your assets after your death.

What happens if, during your 77 years, you decide not to write a will? When you die, the laws of the state where you reside will determine how your property is distributed. These are the "intestacy laws." A person who dies without a will is said to have died "intestate."

New Hampshire's Intestacy Laws Explained

If you die without a will in New Hampshire, then New Hampshire's intestacy laws will determine what happens to your property. This means that the state, not you, will decide how to distribute your property.

How Does Probate Work in New Hampshire If There Is No Will?

In New Hampshire, the word "probate" can mean a few different things. For example, if you probate a will, that means proving that a document is a valid will.

For this discussion, probate "refers to the functions of the Circuit Court Probate Division in the appointment of an administrator and supervision over the settlement of an Estate.”

Let's break that down. In simple terms, the phrase "the Circuit Court Probate Division has jurisdiction over estate matters" means that, if you are going through probate, you will be in probate court. Probate court is the court that handles estate matters. 

The definition states that the probate court will appoint an administrator. Who or what exactly is an administrator? In New Hampshire, an administrator is a person or entity who manages and settles an estate following New Hampshire's intestacy laws. Often, an administrator is a close family member of the deceased, such as a spouse or child.

After the probate court appoints an administrator, the court will supervise the settlement of the estate. What exactly is "the estate"? It's the deceased's real and personal property.

The administrator has a lot of responsibilities. Once the probate court appoints the administrator, the administrator must prepare an inventory that includes the deceased's real and personal property. The administrator must file the inventory with the probate court. 

They must also manage the estate. This typically involves paying the estate's debts and filing all necessary state and federal tax returns. 

Once all claims are paid, and the administrator files a final account with the court, they can finally distribute the estate's remaining assets to the proper people. When there is no will, New Hampshire's intestacy laws determine exactly who will inherit what, which we will discuss in more detail below. The estate can be closed once the administrator notifies the probate court of this final action.

Not all property has to go through the probate process to transfer ownership. For example, suppose the property is something like a life insurance policy, which must have a named beneficiary. In that case, that property does not go through probate because the proceeds from the life insurance policy automatically transfer upon the deceased's death. Similarly, if the property is held in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, ownership automatically transfers to the surviving tenant upon death, and probate is unnecessary.

An expedited process called a "Waiver of Administration" is available to some estates if they meet specific criteria. For example, if a person dies intestate, this means their surviving spouse "is the sole heir and is appointed to serve as administrator.”

Administering an estate is a big responsibility. If you are appointed to be the administrator of a loved one's estate, you do not have to go through the process alone. If you have questions or need assistance, you can contact a probate attorney who can answer your questions and guide you through the process.

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

One step of the administration process is distributing the deceased's assets. If a person dies without a will in New Hampshire, the administrator must distribute assets per New Hampshire's intestacy laws. 

In New Hampshire, determining who inherits assets depends on whether the deceased had a surviving spouse and/or children. A person's surviving spouse is their current spouse that is still alive. The term "issue" refers to a person's lineal descendants, including their children and grandchildren.

In New Hampshire, if a spouse survives the deceased, the spouse gets everything if there are no living children or parents in the picture. If the surviving spouse and deceased share surviving issue, and the surviving spouse has no other children or grandchildren, then the surviving spouse inherits the first $250,000 plus one-half of the remainder. 

In some instances, the deceased's surviving parents and/or siblings may also be entitled to inherit.

The deceased's issue (children and/or grandchildren) will typically inherit everything if the is no living spouse. And if there is no surviving issue, the deceased's parents inherit equally. 

If you are concerned about how your assets will be distributed upon your death, remember that you do not have to let New Hampshire law dictate how your assets will be distributed. You can begin your estate planning process by contacting an estate planning attorney. The estate planning attorney can answer your questions and help you create an estate plan.

Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in New Hampshire

Death can often leave us with more questions than answers. Here, we will go over frequently asked questions about dying without a will in New Hampshire. 

What happens when your parent dies without a will?

The death of a parent can be a difficult experience. Through the grief, you may find yourself asking, "What now?" If your parent had a will, then their will directs who will handle the estate and how their property will be distributed.

However, if your parent dies without a will, New Hampshire's intestacy laws will determine what happens next. 

You are entitled to inherit regardless of whether they left a surviving spouse. However, whether they have a surviving spouse can determine how much you inherit. Additionally, whether or not your parent had any other surviving issue will also impact your inheritance. And, you may apply to be the administrator of their estate.

In New Hampshire, you are entitled to inherit your parent's entire estate if there is no surviving spouse. If you have siblings, then you equally share the estate.

You do not have to wait until the loss of a parent to discuss their estate. If your parent is still alive, it is possible to talk to them about their final wishes. 

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

 In New Hampshire, a surviving spouse may inherit part or all of the estate. When discussing inheritance, the term "decedent" refers to the deceased. 

In New Hampshire, if there is a surviving spouse:

  • They would receive the entire estate if the decedent had no surviving parent or child.
  • They would get the first $250,000 of the estate plus one-half the remaining balance if there is a surviving child they shared with the decedent, and they have no other surviving children.
  • They receive the first $250,000 plus three-fourths of the remaining balance if there is a surviving parent but no surviving child.
  • They would receive the first $150,000, plus one-half of the balance of the estate if there is a surviving child they share with the decedent and the surviving spouse has a surviving child from a different partnership.
  • They would receive the first $100,000 and one-half of the estate if the decedent left children they did not share with their surviving spouse.

It's okay if reading all of that makes you feel a little overwhelmed. Remember, you do not have to go through the administration process alone. You can hire an attorney to help guide you through the process. The most important thing to realize from reading the above section is that if you are a surviving spouse, then you have rights.

Are there any probate exemptions if you die without a will in New Hampshire?

Not all property has to go through probate. Some property is exempt from the probate process, including the following:

  • Property held as a "joint tenancy with right of survivorship"
  • Joint bank accounts
  • Proceeds from life insurance policies
  • Proceeds from retirement accounts
  • Property held in trust

If you have questions about whether your property has to go through probate, consult with an experienced attorney. An attorney can advise you on whether or not the property needs to go through administration.

How long does probate take when there is no will?

In New Hampshire, "the estate must remain open for at least six months from the date of the executor's appointment to allow creditors to present claims." If all claims have been paid, the estate may be closed and a final account filed with the court.

An estate can be open for 12 months after the appointment of an administrator. An estate may be open for years if the situation is very complex or contentious. 

Who is considered next of kin in New Hampshire?

"Next of kin" is a term that usually refers to a person's closest living relatives. When discussing estate matters, "next of kin" is generally used to refer to living relatives who may be entitled to inherit some or all of the deceased's estate.

In New Hampshire, not all kin can inherit property. This means that you won't get an inheritance from a distant relative. Specifically, you cannot inherit under New Hampshire's intestacy laws if you are "of the fifth or greater degree of kinship" to the deceased.

If you think you are a deceased person's relative and may be entitled to a portion of their estate, you have a few options. You can reach out to the estate administrator to notify them of your concerns. You can also contact a probate attorney who can advise you of your rights and potential next steps. 

What Do You Want to Happen When Your Years Are Up?

Age is a relative concept. Depending on where you are in your life, 77 years may seem very young or very old. It seems like the older a person is, the faster time passes. 

Don't let time go by without deciding what you want to happen when your years are up. Now is the perfect time to start your end-of-life planning, and Cake is a great planning platform to help you get started.


Sources:

1. “Administering an Estate.” New Hampshire Judicial Branch, Circuit Court Administrative Office and Electronic Filing Center, 12 December 2019, Courts.nh.gov

2. Murphy, Sherry, and Kenneth Kochanek. “Products - Data Briefs - Number 427 - December 2021.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, December 2021, Cdc.gov

 

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