What Happens If I Die Without a Will?
Updated: Mar 17
When someone dies without a Last Will and Testament, the state steps in and decides who gets what from the estate. This can turn into a legal nightmare.
Many think a Will is something he or she can put off for a much later date.
Unfortunately, the problem is that dying without a Will can create court involvement, confusion, and animosity between family members and might even prevent the decedent from getting the funeral that he or she wanted.
What is Intestate?
Dying without a Will is referred to as “intestate.” This means if someone doesn’t direct the distribution of one’s assets in a Will, the entire estate is then distributed pursuant to the intestacy laws of the state where that person resides. Those laws and the courts will determine which family members get that person’s estate. Intestacy laws cover everything from bank accounts to real estate and other assets the decedent might own at the time of death.
Out of State Assets
To complicate matters, if the decedent owns out of state property, the intestacy laws of the state where the property is located controls that particular piece of real estate. Each state has its own set of laws that determine distribution.
Since the person who died did not have a Will, there is no executor. Therefore, the state decides who is going to fill the role of executor. Essentially, if one dies without a Will, he or she is giving the state full control over the distribution of their assets.
Your Final Wishes Don’t Count
The laws of intestacy do not consider your final wishes. For example, if you were in the process of getting a divorce and have children from a previous marriage that you wanted to bequeath your assets, without a Will, the current spouse might end up with your entire estate. This will likely result in fighting between heirs. Sometimes the fighting becomes so intense that lawsuits are filed and family members stop speaking to one another.
Also, without a Will, your funeral wishes might not be carried out. If you always talked about being buried in a particular cemetery and having a large party for family and friends to remember all the good things, because no Will is in place, your heirs might decide it is much cheaper to have the body cremated and ashes thrown to the wind. If a Will had been in place, the executor is obligated to fulfill the wishes dictated and the party would go on.
Be in Control
A Will puts you in control to choose who gets your estate, assets, the pets, who becomes the guardian for your children, how you want your funeral to be handled, and more. Having the state administer your estate usually results in many issues and costs for your heirs that could have been avoided.
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