What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Vermont?


Did you know that Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the country? Did you also know that Vermont did not get its flow of maple syrup overnight? In fact, it takes almost 40 years for a sugar maple tree, the main source of maple syrup, to grow large enough to be sustainably tapped. 

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If you moved to Vermont hoping to grow and tap your own sugar maple tree, you are in for a long wait. While you wait, you have time to focus on other long-term plans such as whether or not you need a will. A will is a legal document that details how a person wants their property distributed upon their death. This could be especially important if you are concerned about who will inherit your sugar maple trees after you are gone.

In this guide, we’ll explore what happens if you die without a will in Vermont. 

Vermont’s Intestacy Laws Explained

If a person dies without a will they are said to have died intestate. If a person dies without a will, their state’s intestacy laws will determine how their assets are distributed.

Each state has its own intestacy laws. If a person dies without a will in Vermont, then Vermont’s intestacy laws will determine how their property is distributed. Below we will discuss Vermont’s intestacy laws.

» MORE: Everyone's wishes are different. Here's how to honor your unique loved one.

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

In Vermont, the probate court handles many matters including the probate of estates. Probate is the court-supervised process of settling a person’s estate after their death.

The probate court oversees the administration of the estate to ensure that the administrator correctly performs their duties and abides by the law. The probate court appoints an administrator who is in charge of managing the estate. The administrator is usually a family member or close friend of the deceased. 

An important part of probate is distributing property. However, only property that was owned by the deceased can go through probate. This means that property that automatically passes upon a person’s death is not subject to probate, including life insurance policies with named beneficiaries or property held jointly with a right of survivorship. 

Formal probate

In Vermont, there are generally two types of probate, formal and small estates. Which one is right for the estate will depend on the property of the estate. If either of the following are true, then a more formal probate process may be necessary: 

  • The estate’s value is greater than $45,000.00
  • There was real estate other than a timeshare in the estate

If formal probate is necessary, then the process generally goes as follows:

  • The administrator begins the probate process by filing a petition with the probate court. 
  • Once appointed, the administrator files an inventory with the court. An inventory is just a list of the deceased’s assets. 
  • During administration, the administrator maintains separate bank accounts for the estate’s funds. 
  • The surviving spouse has certain rights that they may elect. The surviving spouse must notify the court of any elections within certain deadlines. These elections are discussed in more detail in a later section on the surviving spouse’s rights.
  • The administrator also has a duty to notify creditors and handle the claims of creditors. 
  • During probate administration expenses are also handled. 
  • In some instances, it may be necessary to sell real or personal property of the estate. The administrator handles that as well.
  • The administrator must provide the court with accountings as required by the court or by law, including a final accounting. 
  • The administrator is also in charge of the payment of fiduciary and attorney fees, as well as the filing and payment of all necessary taxes.
  • Once all of the above is complete, the administrator may then distribute the estate’s remaining assets.
  • After distribution is complete, the administrator may close the estate. 

As you can see from the above list, the administrator has a lot of responsibilities. If you are the administrator of a loved one’s estate, you do not have to go through the process alone. If you have questions about the Vermont probate process, you should consult with an experienced probate attorney licensed in Vermont.

An experienced probate attorney can answer your questions. They can also provide legal advice and guide you through the probate process if necessary.

Small estates

Not all estates need to go through the full probate process. If the following are true, it may be possible to go through a simplified probate process for small estates:

  • The deceased did not own any real estate (other than a timeshare) 
  • The estate is worth less than $45,000.00

The small estate process can save both time and money. You should consult with a probate attorney about your probate options. 

Who Typically Inherits Assets in Vermont If There Isn’t a Will?

One of the steps of the probate process is the distribution of assets. If there isn’t a will, then who gets the assets is determined by state law. In Vermont, who typically inherits assets depends on whether or not the deceased had a surviving spouse and/or descendants. 

Keep in mind that in Vermont, the parties to a civil union have the same benefits, protections and responsibilities as are granted to spouses in a marriage. When spouse is used, it includes parties to a civil union. You should also keep in mind that in order to be considered a surviving spouse, the spouse must survive the deceased by 120 hours. 

» MORE: Don't have the privledge of time? Get your affairs in order in minutes.

Surviving spouse

A surviving spouse’s share of the intestate estate is taken from what is left after the following are paid for from the intestate estate:

  • Debts
  • Funeral charges
  • Allowances to the surviving spouse and children pursuant to Vermont law
  • Administration expenses

After payment of the above, the surviving spouse may be entitled to all or half of the intestate estate. The surviving spouse gets the entire intestate estate if either of the following are true:

  • No descendants of the deceased survive the deceased. A descendant is a child, grandchild, or great-grandchild of the person who died.
  • All of the deceased’s surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse.

The surviving spouse only gets one-half of the intestate estate if the deceased is survived by one or more descendants who are not descendants of the surviving spouse. 

Heirs other than surviving spouse

If the surviving spouse does not inherit the entire estate, then what is left of the estate goes first to the deceased’s descendants by right of representation. By representation is one way of dividing property among generations. It means that each generation receives an equal share.

If there are no descendants, then the intestate estate passes to the following in the following order:

  • The deceased’s parents 
  • The deceased’s siblings and the descendants of any deceased siblings by right of representation
  • The deceased’s surviving grandparent(s)
  • The deceased’s next of kin

Familial relationships are complex and state laws have yet to catch up to every possible familial scenario. If you live in Vermont and are concerned about providing for your loved ones after you are gone, then it may be time to start your end-of-life planning. 

When you proactively make end-of-life plans, you get to choose how your property will be distributed. If you are ready to explore your end-of-life planning options, then Cake is here to help. Use our website during every stage of your planning process. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in Vermont

The loss of a loved one is always a difficult experience. It can be even more difficult if your loved one died without a will. Without a will, you may find yourself with more questions than answers. Read on as we answer frequently asked questions about dying without a will in Vermont. 

What happens when your parent dies without a will?

We can’t tell you what happens when your parent dies. Everyone will experience the loss of a parent in their own way. However, when your parent dies without a will in Vermont, you may have certain rights to inherit property. As discussed above, these rights will depend on whether or not your parent left behind a surviving spouse.

Additionally, what happens after your parent dies also depends on whether or not they left behind any minor children. In Vermont, minor children have certain rights after a parent dies. For example, they may be entitled to an allowance for support and maintenance. 

If you have lost a parent, you should consult with a probate attorney. A probate attorney can answer your questions and advise you regarding your rights. 

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

The loss of a spouse can leave someone feeling a range of emotions. While Vermont law cannot protect a surviving spouse from feeling all of the feels that accompany the loss of a loved one, it can protect the surviving spouse in other ways. In Vermont, the surviving spouse has many rights if there’s no will. Some of which will be discussed below.

Surviving spouse’s share of the intestate estate 

As discussed above in the inheritance section, the surviving spouse may have a right to some or all of the intestate estate. Their rights are based on whether or not the deceased had any surviving descendants and the descendant's relationship to the surviving spouse. 

Surviving spouse’s interest in homestead

In Vermont, if the deceased leaves a surviving spouse, then their homestead (up to $125,000 in value) passes to the surviving spouse. This passes without “being subject to the payment of debts of the deceased, unless legally charged thereon in his or her lifetime.”

Surviving spouse's right to request support during estate administration

The surviving spouse also has a right to request reasonable allowance for the necessary expenses of support and maintenance of their self and/or any minor children. This allowance may take priority over debts of the estate. 

Surviving spouse’s right to receive household goods

The surviving spouse may motion the court to receive all furnishings and furniture in the deceased’s household.

Surviving spouse’s right to vessel, snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle

In Vermont, whenever a deceased’s estate “consists principally of a vessel, snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle, the surviving spouse shall be deemed to be the owner of the vessel, snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle, and title to the vessel, snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle shall automatically pass to the surviving spouse.”

Please remember that this article does not cover all of the rights that a person may have as a surviving spouse. If you have lost your spouse, then you should speak with a probate attorney immediately to ensure that your rights are protected.

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

Not all property is subject to probate. As discussed earlier, some property automatically transfers ownership upon death. Additionally, in some circumstances, not all property of the deceased will be used to pay creditors or other debts of the estate. As discussed above, the surviving spouse and/or minor children have rights that take priority over debts of the estate. 

Who is considered next of kin in Vermont?

Next of kin is often used to refer to a person’s closest living relatives. That definition can change during intestacy discussions. In Vermont, next of kin includes spouses, parties to a civil union, kindred of the half-blood, and all other heirs. 

Who Do You Want to Tap Your Syrup?

Just like a sugar maple tree takes years to build its sweet syrup reserve, you are taking years to build your estate. Right now you have the chance to decide who you want to tap into the sweet rewards of everything you have worked to produce. The decision process is a part of end-of-life planning. 

If you are ready to take the first steps in your end-of-life planning process, then check out the resources on the Cake website. You don’t have to wait 40 years, the Cake website enables adults at every stage in their life to engage in proactive planning. 

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