By Sam O’Neill
A common question that I get when someone learns that I am an estate planning attorney is: What happens if I die without a will?

The answer is simple, if someone dies without a will, their property will pass under the intestacy laws of whatever state they reside in at their time of death. In Nebraska, the Nebraska Probate Code defines the intestate estate as any part of the estate of a decedent not effectively disposed of by will.

Intestacy laws only govern how property that would be included in the intestate estate of the Decedent passes to heirs. Some property does not pass to heirs based on the intestate estate.

For example, if a property is owned in joint tenancy, the property passes to the surviving joint tenant(s), and not according to intestacy laws. The same is true for life insurance or a retirement plan that has a beneficiary designation. The life insurance or retirement plan passes according to the terms of the controlling contract and is not part of the intestate estate.

How does property pass in Nebraska without a will?

graph explaining intestancy laws

To illustrate how intestate succession works, let’s imagine that “Joe Smith” was married with two adult children and died without a will. At the time of death, Joe owned a home with his spouse in joint tenancy and had a retirement account that listed his spouse as the sole beneficiary.

Joe was also the sole owner of a bank account worth $200,000. As discussed above, the home and retirement account would pass outside of the intestate estate because the home was owned in joint tenancy and the retirement account had a beneficiary designation. The bank account is the only property that would pass as part of the intestate estate.

In this example, Joe’s property would pass as follows:

graph explaining intestancy

If you want to control how your assets pass upon your death instead of relying on Nebraska intestacy laws, it is important to meet with an estate planning attorney to prepare the necessary estate planning documents.

If you have any questions regarding Nebraska intestacy laws, gaining the assistance of a probate attorney can be beneficial. Abrahams Kaslow & Cassman LLP has been assisting families with the probate process since 1946. Contact Sam O’Neill at [email protected] for more information.