What Happens When You Die Without a Will?

Wills are not just for the wealthy or financial elite, they’re an important tool for anyone who has an estate. Whether it’s simple jewelry items, a single investment account, or a large collection – you should have a will in place to protect all your assets and your heirs.

To truly understand why everyone should have a will; regardless of fortune or estate size, it’s important to know what happens when you die without a will – otherwise known as “intestate”.

Three of the most common and unfortunate situations that arise from dying intestate are:

  • The court determines what happens to your property, and if you do not have relatives to inherit the property, it will go to the state.
  • The court will decide who will care for any minor children you leave behind if your spouse is unable to care for them.
  • If you are not legally married, or if your union or relationship is not recognized in the state you reside, your surviving spouse may not be able to inherit anything.

The court determines what happens to your property…

The way the court generally works when deciding who is to inherit property from your estate if the property in question does not have assigned beneficiaries, is to award it to your children or closest living relative. If you do not have any relatives, then the state inherits your property.

If you want your children or closest relative to inherit your property, then fortunately for you that’s most likely what will happen even if you die without a will, but if you intend to leave your property – or a portion of your property – to anyone else, you will need to identify additional beneficiaries; both individuals and institutions, in a will.

If you do not have any living relatives, the state will take your property holdings unless you assign them elsewhere. Even if you don’t have any non-relatives you would like to leave your property to, consider if there’s an institution or charity that you’d like to honor with a donation.

The court will decide who will care for any minor children…

If you have minor children, it’s very important that you identify a guardian, and even a backup guardian who can care for them in the event that you and your spouse are unable to do so. Otherwise, the state determines the best option for their care regardless of your wishes.

If your relationship with your spouse is not legally recognized, they may not inherit anything…

Unless your relationship with your partner is legally recognized; or if they are identified a beneficiary or joint owner on your accounts and assets, they will not inherit anything. Make sure you take the time to list your spouse as a beneficiary on your contracts and name them as such in your will.