"Intestate" is one state in which you don't want to die. Dying intestate means that 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 strict procedures. You might have preferred to leave everything to certain relatives, but the state will follow prescribed inheritance formulas. These formulas are designed to do what's right for the average person, but they're rarely right for every person.

Dying intestate often means that your estate not only ends up in probate, but may also spend years there, as various heirs litigate. This is clearly an undesirable situation (unless you never really liked your family). To make matters worse, probate proceedings are usually a matter of public record, so any family fighting may become common knowledge. Yuck.

Have your will drawn up, even if you're not very old. For many of us, it will just cost a few hundred dollars, at most.

Learn more about estate planning at Estate Planning Links. For related info, check out Funeral Consumers Alliance and the long but enlightening Funerals and Ripoffs. Also, check out our previous "Ask the Fools" on how much funerals cost, what a will can do, and how to plan your will.

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