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Death: Get Over It

Dying "intestate" may sound like a gut-wrenching way to go. And while it has nothing to do with your physical state of being, it can leave your loved ones with lingering pain. But there are simple steps you can take to prevent it.

When you die intestate, you've passed on to the great beyond without leaving behind a will or trust. In such cases, your friendly state government takes over and follows prescribed inheritance formulas. Or, as one Fool wrote to us: "When someone dies intestate, that's lawyerese for, 'Oh boy, let's see how much I can get out of this!'"

When the state takes over, your family sits in limbo as your estate lingers in probate -- possibly for years. Your assets are divvied up according to a stranger's prescribed recipe, and your Aunt Ida, the animal shelter, and anyone else you wished to leave your money to may never see one red cent.

To avoid such an unhappy ending, here are three recommendations to make your passing go as smoothly as it can:

Find an attorney who is thoroughly versed in estate planning. (Your divorce lawyer or patent guy probably won't hack it. Here are some tips.)

Stay up-to-date on tax changes. They affect your planning documents.

Make sure that the right people know where to find these documents. Remember, it's a question of when (not if) they'll be needed.

Start lining up your ducks and turning yourself into your brood's favorite relative. Learn more about estate planning at this useful (but not entirely unbiased) website: Estate Planning Links. Also, check out our previous pieces on what funerals cost, how to save money on one, what a will can do, and how to plan your will.

More on helping your family through a personal tragedy on

  • Compose Your Legacy: An ethical will is the softer side of estate planning. Here's how to write one.
  • Tough Talk: How to approach loved ones about their final financial wishes.
  • The Million-Dollar Clerical Error: A misfiled form robs a widower of his wife's final wishes. Could it happen to you?
  • Pre-Settle Your Estate: We're not rushing you to your grave, but we urge you to make things easier for your surviving loved ones.
  • Update Your Beneficiaries: After any major life-changing event (marriage, birth, divorce, death), you must re-evaluate who will inherit what.
  • The Windfall Whipsaw: Euphoria! Guilt! Anger! Opportunity! They're all part of the emotional price of inheriting money.

TMF Money Advisor (there's afree trialbeing offered right now) will help you sort out your stuff, and even coach you via telephone on making your family -- not the state's lawyers -- sing your praises after you're gone.

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