When a person dies, he leaves behind everything he owns, including real estate, bank accounts and personal property. That person's heirs may have a right to inherit the estate. Arkansas' inheritance laws set forth the requirements for a person to make a will, how non-willable property is inherited and what happens if a person dies without a will.
When a person does not leave a will, naming beneficiaries to inherit his estate, Arkansas' intestacy laws set forth the order in which his heirs have a right to inherit. Unlike most states, in which the surviving spouse is the first to inherit, Arkansas statute 28-9-214 states that the decedent's children, if living, are entitled in inherit equal shares of the entire estate. If there are no children and the spouses were married for at least three years, the surviving spouse will inherit half of the decedent's estate. The decedent's parents, if living, will also be entitled to inherit half of the estate. If the decedent is not survived by children, a spouse or parents, his siblings and their children -- the decedent's nieces and nephews -- will inherit equal shares of the entire estate.
Not everything can be passed down through a will. If a decedent had a joint bank account or owned any property, including real estate, jointly with another person, the surviving owner automatically inherits the decedent's interest in the property. This is because joint property is owned with a right of survivorship. Additionally, life insurance policies often have named beneficiaries. If the decedent had life insurance, the beneficiary will receive the proceeds. A decedent cannot name a difference beneficiary in his will. Lastly, if any property is in trust for another person, often a bank account, that beneficiary will be permitted to take control of the account upon the decedent's death.
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A testator is the person who makes a will. Anyone can make a will if he is at least 18 and is fully competent. Mental competence means that a testator must be "of sound mind" and be aware of all of his property and whom he wants to name as beneficiaries. The testator is free to select anyone as a beneficiary, including a friend, relative or charitable organization. However, the will must be voluntary. Any undue influence by a potential beneficiary can invalidate a will.
In order for an inheritance from a will to be valid, the will must be signed in accordance with Arkansas law. The will must be in writing, almost always typed. "Holographic" or handwritten wills may be accepted by an Arkansas court, but the handwriting must be the testator's and that can be difficult to prove after the testator's death.
The will must also be signed. The testator is required to sign the will at the end of the document. Any provisions below the signature line are void. If the testator is physically unable to sign, he can direct someone else to sign on his behalf. That person must sign the testator's name and the signature must occur in the testator's presence. Two impartial individuals must witness the will signing. Witnesses must be no less than 18 and cannot be named beneficiaries under the will. (References 2, 3- pg. 1)