Creating a will should be the first step in a comprehensive estate planning process as it gives you the opportunity to make sure your wishes are carried out after you're gone. Typically, the cost of preparing a basic will is a few hundred dollars. For many people, it only takes a day or two to draw up the will and protect their beneficiaries. In contrast, if you don't create a will, the state will typically decide how to distribute your property. However, laws and details vary greatly from state to state and based on your marital and familial status. Here are six common scenarios of what could happen if you don't have a will.
Consequences for Those Married With Children
If a married person dies without leaving a will, then investments, property, and accounts that are “jointly owned” go to the co-owner (usually a spouse or child) without going to probate court. However, separately owned property and accounts typically are distributed by the state, which may award one-third to one-half of the assets to a surviving spouse, with the remainder split among the children.
Consequences for Those Married With No Kids or Grandkids
If a married person with no kids dies without a will, some states will give the entire state to the surviving widow or widower (sometimes there may be a cap of about $100,000 in certain states). Other states give one-third to one-half of the deceased's estate to the spouse with the rest going to the deceased's parents or siblings. The jointly owned property, financial accounts, investments, and community property goes to the surviving co-owner.
Consequences for Those Single With Children
If someone is unmarried with kids when they pass, all state laws give the deceased's assets to surviving children in equal shares. If an adult child of the decedent is dead, their share is split among their children (the decedent’s grandchildren).
Consequences for Those Single With No Kids or Grandkids
For unmarried people with no children, most states will typically favor the person’s parents if they are still alive. If not, many states will divide the property among the decedent's siblings (or nephews and nieces if the siblings are no longer alive). If there is no living kin, the state will typically get the estate.
Consequences for Unmarried Couples
If you are not married to your partner, dying without a will can devastate your partner financially because intestacy laws only recognize spouses and relatives. Unmarried couples don't inherit their partner's property if one of them dies with no will. Instead, the decedent's property is distributed among relatives and the partner isn't legally entitled to anything.
Consequences for Domestic Partners
Special rules may apply to your domestic partnership. Not all states honor domestic partnerships, so you should check the laws that apply to you and determine how your property would be distributed if you die intestate. Generally, domestic partners may have the same rights as a surviving spouse, but it depends on how the property is owned.
Even if the laws in your state match your wishes in terms of the dispersal of your estate, it's important to carefully weigh your options. Preparing a will helps you take care of loved ones should you pass away. It can also safeguard your property and money from becoming assets of the state.
Most people enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have done everything in your power to protect those you love the most. Seeking the advice of a financial advisor specializing in estate planning is a great way to get the process started.
This information is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not to be considered advice. Information is derived from sources which are believed to be reliable, but are not independently audited. Views and opinions are subject to change at any time based on market and other conditions. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.