Legal Articles

What Happens If You Don’t Have a Will?

By Meghan O'Meara

They say two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Creating an estate plan with an attorney allows you to understand what options are available to you and gives you an opportunity to decide how your assets are distributed, and to whom, after your death. However, if you don’t have a will or trust, what happens to your assets after death can be an unknown. If you die without a will or trust your probate assets will be distributed through the state’s intestate succession laws. Intestate succession is a statutory framework that provides rules concerning how much, and whom, will receive a distribution from your estate.

If you die with:

  • A spouse but no descendants, the spouse inherits everything.
  • Children but no spouse, the children inherit everything.
  • A spouse and descendants from you and that spouse, the spouse inherits everything.
  • A spouse and at least one descendant from you and someone other than that spouse, the spouse inherits ½ of your intestate real estate and at least ½ of your intestate personal property, provided the spouse’s share is worth at least $50,000. The descendants inherit everything else.
  • Parents but no spouse or descendants, the parents inherit everything.
  • Siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents, the siblings inherit everything.

If you die without any family, including descendants of your maternal and paternal grandparents, only then will your estate “escheat” to the state, but it should be noted that this is incredibly rare.  You may be wondering why, then, is estate planning a good idea? Firstly, it allows you to ensure the people you want to receive your estate actually receive it. Under intestacy, it won’t matter if you have a strained relationship with your child or that one uncle - if they are entitled to a portion of your estate under intestacy, they will receive it. Additionally, estate planning will allow you to appoint a personal representative to represent your interests and your estate, will allow them to do so without requiring bond, will allow you to appoint a guardian for minor children, and in general give you more control over your hard-earned assets.

If you have additional questions about estate planning, please contact an attorney in your area.