We all know we’re supposed to do estate planning, but not all of us get around to it. So what happens if you don’t have a will when you die? Your estate will be distributed according to state laws, which may or may not conform to the way you want your assets and possessions to be distributed.
Each state has laws that determine what will happen if a person dies without a will. If you’re married, most states award one-third to one-half of your estate to your spouse, with the rest divided among your children or, if you have no children, to other relatives such as your parents or siblings. If you’re single, most states provide that your estate will go to your children, or to other relatives if you don’t have children. If you have no living relatives, then your property will go to the state.
However, jointly held assets, such as bank accounts or houses, will go directly to the co-owner. In addition, life insurance policies or retirement accounts will go to the beneficiary designated on the account. And if you have a trust, the assets in the trust will go to the beneficiary designated in the trust.
One important purpose of a will is to name a guardian for your young children. If you don’t have a will, a court will determine who will act as their guardian. In the absence of a will, the court will also appoint the person who will administer your estate.
Importantly, if you’re unmarried but have a partner, your partner will not inherit anything from your estate without a will naming him or her as a beneficiary.
The best way to ensure your estate will be distributed in the way you want it is to plan your estate with a will and/or a trust.