If you’re not a fan of the PBS series “Downton Abbey,” we apologize for this post. It seems as if everyone we know is obsessed with the show! Downton Abbey is a television drama that originally appeared on the British television station ITV. Currently in its second season on PBS, the show follows the dramatic events surrounding a family of British aristocrats that live in the family’s ancestral home, Downton Abbey.
The series begins shortly after the presumptive family heir dies on the Titanic, then follows the family through the first World War. Much of the storyline revolves around the central question of who stands to inherit the family estate. In early twentieth century England, inheritances were not just about property and the family home, but also about who would receive the hereditary titles possessed by Lord Earl Grantham and his wife, the Countess.
The legal and hereditary implications of British aristocracy may seem like they have a limited relation to your estate, but we can learn a lot by watching Downton Abbey. Though your family will probably not go through the twists and turns of the television drama, the death of a family member can cause problems, especially when that person dies intestate.
What is intestate? Basically, dying intestate means you don’t leave behind a will. When this happens, your state’s laws choose who gets your property even if you made it very clear how you want it to pass after you die. Though your heirs don’t have to worry about receiving any titles you possessed, and there is no presumption that only your male heirs will inherit, the intestacy laws are very specific, and the only way to avoid them is to create an estate plan.