These are tumultuous times to be an undocumented immigrant in America. If you or a loved one is undocumented, questions and fears may be constantly running through your mind. In addition to any worries you have about what will happen next week or next month, you may struggle with those same end-of-life questions that plague many of us. Will my family be able to keep what I’ve earned? What happens if I don’t have a will? What can I do to make sure that my final wishes are known and respected?
It’s estimated that 10.5 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States as of 2017, making up between 3.2 and 3.6 percent of the U.S. population. If you or a close relative is part of that group, don’t put off estate planning out of fear. The answers to your questions are available, if you know where to go for help.
What Happens If I Don’t Have a Will?
Dying without a will is called dying intestate. Generally when someone dies intestate, the person’s estate has to go through the probate process. The probate court makes sure that any of the deceased’s debts are paid and decides who will inherit anything that’s left. Each state has its own intestacy laws that determine how assets are distributed when someone dies without a will. These laws lay out the order in which a person’s relatives should inherit assets, and what portion of the estate each eligible heir should receive.
Minimizing the probate court’s involvement is one of the benefits of having a will. Creating this document allows an individual to clearly state their wishes about how their assets are distributed. If you don’t take this step, your state’s intestacy laws will determine what happens next. Not only may your property be distributed in a way you wouldn’t have chosen, but your heirs may also be burdened with the stress and expense that comes with probate. Going through a court process could be especially frightening if any of your heirs are also undocumented.
Your immigration status doesn’t mean you can’t create a will. If you name loved ones in your will who are undocumented, they may still be entitled to inherit your assets. So don’t let being undocumented keep you from starting this part of the estate planning process. Instead of asking yourself “What happens if I don’t have a will?,” start thinking about what wishes you might want to include when you do create a will.
What Will Happen to My Property?
Immigration status won’t necessarily affect your ability to leave property to your heirs. If you’re one of the millions of undocumented immigrants who owns property in the U.S., you may be able to use your will to leave that property to a child or other loved one. An undocumented immigrant may also be able to take possession of property left to them by someone else.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself?
Undocumented immigrants don’t have all the same rights and options around estate planning as citizens. For example, estate tax law allows most married couples to take advantage of the marriage deduction, a way of maximizing the amount of money a couple may shelter from estate taxes. This deduction is only available to U.S. citizens. But there are certain kinds of tools that estate planners may be able to help you put in place to protect yourself and your family, no matter your immigration status.
Estate planning is always a highly personal process. An individual’s plans depend on their assets, family structure and priorities. There’s an added layer of complexity for undocumented immigrants, of course. Laws affecting immigrants are often shifting, and your specific circumstances will play a big role in determining what options are available to you and your family. That’s why it’s so important to not make any assumptions about your ability to do estate planning before talking to a knowledgeable estate planning attorney.
Starting the estate planning process is difficult for many people. It requires you to think about and talk about your eventual death and what will happen to your loved ones when you’re gone. It could be especially frightening for anyone who’s accustomed to avoiding the government and legal paperwork. Getting started may require a leap of faith for immigrants who are undocumented, but it’s a leap worth taking to protect yourself and your family.
Ease your fears by seeking the advice of trustworthy, empathetic estate planning attorneys. The team at Ladimer Law is here to help you navigate this process, so you can make informed decisions that feel right for you.
Don’t let your immigration status keep you from reaching out to us. We’re here to make estate planning as simple and empowering as possible. Contact Ladimer Law now to start making plans.
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Ladimer Law specializes in estate planning. We protect our clients, their heirs, and their assets by listening closely, knowing the law, and executing estate plans that fit and evolve.