What Happens If I Die Without a Will?

Though many people not only ask this question and worry about its answers, according to AARP 60 per cent of the population dies without a will (intestate). No matter whether you are a young adult or a retiree, taking the risk of dying without a will is not a good plan. Understandably, no matter what age we are, we generally try to put the thought of our own mortality out of mind. Nonetheless, we know that death will come to all of us whether we prepare for it or not.

In reality, taking control of our inevitable future is likely to provide relief rather than distress. We all want to provide for those we leave behind, and perhaps for their descendants, so consulting with an astute estate planning attorney may end up being a much more positive experience than you anticipate. In addition, none of us wants to cause family members increased stress when they are already coping with grief and loss. A practical way to show how much you care for those you love is not only to leave them your worldly goods, but to save them from the confusion of legal entanglements at a painful time. The more neatly you are able to tie up loose ends, the easier it will be for them to readjust to life without you.

What exactly does a will accomplish?

A will, or last will and testament, serves several purposes. It not only names those you want to designate as beneficiaries, it also:

  • Names a personal representative (executor) to make sure the terms of your will are carried out according to your wishes
  • Names a personal guardian to care for your children if they are not left with a parent
  • Names a trusted individual to manage the property you leave to your minor children

What will happen to your accumulated assets if you don’t leave a will?

If you die intestate, the state will determine, according to legally established intestate succession laws, [1] how and to whom your estate will be distributed and [2] who will be your personal representative. Instead of your wishes being followed, you estate will be distributed as follows:

  • Your surviving spouse, if you have one, will receive one-half of your estate
  • Your children will inherit equal shares of the remaining half
  • If any of your property is owned jointly with rights of survivorship, it will automatically be inherited by the other party
  • If you have no children, your spouse (if you have one) will inherit the entire estate
  • If you have no spouse and/or no children, your grandchildren or parents are next in line.

If you don’t have any of the relatives listed, the state will distribute your estate to other relatives, whether or not they are emotionally close to you in the following order: siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and spouse’s relatives. Finally — and for some people this is the most compelling reason of all to make sure to create a will — if you die intestate and have no living family members, your estate will be absorbed by the state government.

Good Reasons to Consult with a Well-Respected Estate Planning Attorney

Presumably after reading this article so far you have become convinced that consulting an estate planning attorney who is well-schooled in wills and trusts is a good idea. Consider how much power you are relinquishing if you die intestate. For example, suppose one of the following is true:

  • You intended to provide one of your children with a larger portion of your estate than the other(s) (perhaps that particular child is the only one with special needs)
  • You wanted to make a close friend one of your beneficiaries
  • You had decided to disinherit one of your children or to make your niece a beneficiary
  • You wanted to leave a portion of your estate to charity or to start a foundation

In all of the above examples, dying intestate makes your wishes irrelevant. Is that what you want to happen? Probably not. Since none of us can predict even the immediate future, the time to contact a competent estate planning attorney and drafting a will is NOW.

If you would like to enjoy all the benefits of a will and avoid probate, then trust planning is an even better option.  Contact a qualified estate planning attorney today to start your estate plan.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tripp Wiles

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Attorney Tripp Wiles is the founder of Wiles Law Firm, LLC. Tripp was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He graduated from The Citadel with a B.A. in Political Science and holds an M.A. from Hawaii Pacific University in Diplomacy and Military Studies. Tripp earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Over the past decade, Tripp has assisted hundreds of individuals in protecting their families and preserving their legacies through customized estate plans. Tripp enjoys spending time with his wife and their three children.

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