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Dying Without a Will and What Happens to Your Stuff

Every state has intestacy laws that govern whom among a deceased’s relatives will receive the property and assets when there’s no will or trust. These laws vary from state-to-state. The Huffington Post’s recent article, “The Consequences of Dying Without a Will,” discusses some general (i.e., not state specific) guidelines as to what can happen to an individual’s assets, based on whom they leave behind.

Married with children: When a married person with children dies without a will, everything that is “jointly owned” automatically goes to the surviving co-owner (typically the spouse or child) without probate. Probate is the judicial process that distributes a deceased person’s assets. For all other separately owned property or individual financial accounts, most states award one-third to one-half to the surviving spouse and the rest to the children.

Married with no children or grandchildren: Some states give everything to the surviving spouse—or everything up to a certain amount; however, other states award only one-third to one-half of the decedent’s separately owned assets to the surviving spouse. The rest generally goes to the deceased person’s parents, or if they are dead, to brothers and sisters. Jointly owned property, investments, financial accounts, or community property goes to the surviving co-owner.

Single with children: In this case, state laws say that the entire estate goes to the children in equal shares. If an adult child of the deceased is also dead, that child’s children (the decedent’s grandchildren) divides their parent’s share.

Single with no children or grandchildren: The estate will usually go to the deceased person’s parents. If both of the parents are deceased, it will typically be divided by the brothers and sisters, or if they are not living, their children (nieces and nephews). If there are none, the estate goes to the next of kin. If there are no living relatives, the state will take it.

To be certain that your assets go to the individuals you want, have a will created. Even if you have a simple estate and an uncomplicated family situation, you still need a will. And if you have a more complicated financial situation, a blended family or considerable assets, you definitely need to plan your estate with a will and other documents. Sit down with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure you cover all of the issues and scenarios to help avoid family confusion and fighting after you are gone.

Reference: Huffington Post (March 28, 2016) “The Consequences of Dying Without a Will”

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