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Who Gets My Stuff if I Die Without a Will?

Call it junk or stuff, but when someone passes away, there’s nothing on earth that creates more tension in estates than “stuff” — family heirlooms, collectibles, or other items.

Legally, these items are referred to as “tangible personal property,” but it could be dad’s stuff. What happens to this stuff after someone dies depends on many factors, and one of the biggest is whether he or she dies without a will, or “intestate.”’s recent post, “Who Gets the Family Heirlooms When I Die?” looks at what happens to someone’s stuff when there’s no will.

When there’s no will, the state law for intestacy where the deceased was living applies to determine who inherits his or her tangible personal property. In the majority of states, if the deceased was married, much of the tangible personal property will go to the surviving spouse. However, in blended families, the law typically notes a percentage or faction—such as one-third or one-half. Figuring out exactly what that fraction is can be a problem. For example, what’s a third of the couch or one half of the jewelry?

When children and step-children are involved, things can unravel fast because there are no instructions to determine who gets what. One idea to avoid an epic meltdown is a lottery system where the heirs take turns selecting and pick what they want according to the numbers they’ve drawn.

Rather than put your family through this, your best option for dealing with your tangible personal property is to draft a will or a living trust that includes a specific heirloom list and a formula for distributing things that are not on that list to ensure that your wishes will be legally enforceable.

Work with a knowledgeable and experienced estate planning attorney so that the stress and fighting is minimal when the day comes to decide who gets your stuff.

Reference: (February 14, 2016) “Who Gets the Family Heirlooms When I Die?”

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