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Dying Without a Will – What Happens Afterwards

by Tracy Finke

A will is a very important document for people who want to make sure their assets will be given to certain individuals or organizations after their passing. Elders must plan their will very carefully to ensure they do everything right and prepare for potential emergencies.

However, not everyone gets to write a will – they either do not want to, or they pass away before they manage to write it or before the document is completed. So, what happens if someone dies and there is no will to mention who the property or other assets should go to? Things are usually different in every state, but let’s take a look at the general situations that could happen if you do not finalize your will before passing away.

Dying Without a Will

Source: qldestatelawyers.com.au

Wills have the purpose of distributing your assets to your surviving family members, friends, or different charity organizations, depending on who is named on them. This document will include the last wishes of the deceased.

In a will, people usually name an individual that they want to take care of the property left to minor children, provide finances to the family members that were dependent on them, decide how the taxes and debts will be paid, and so on.

When one wants to make sure their estate will go to a certain individual, they will consider estate planning. This is done with the help of an estate planning attorney. With this, you will be able to leave relevant instructions regarding your property, money, savings, and other aspects you want to be handled after your death. This website is a good source for more information on how to hire an estate planning attorney.

Now, wills do not always have to cover every single asset owned. It is just important to write one so the whole asset distribution process goes more smoothly.

Not everyone writes a will, though, and when they pass away without this document, it is something known as dying “intestate”.

What this means is that the assets of the deceased person will be frozen until every single detail is checked by the court system and a decision is made. No family member can say anything regarding who will inherit the estate. The intestate process varies from one state to another, so each one will have its own way of determining who will receive the assets.

The legal process of overseeing the distribution of assets after someone’s passing is known as probate. When there is no will, then the probate will begin with a personal representative being picked by the state. This will usually be either your spouse or your adult children. But in case nobody wants to take care of your estate, a public trustee will be named by the courts to deal with the asset distribution.

What Happens to Your Property and Taxes?

Source: forbes.com

Usually, an estate will be taxed by 40% when it has a value of more than $11.58 million. There will be no federal taxes applied if the estate is worth less than $11.58 million. Sure, things will be different when it comes to state taxes.

In certain states, if your estate has a value of over $1.6 million, it will be taxed up to 16%. But there are also states where a special formula will be used to divide the taxes among your loved ones.

A strong will could allow your spouse to inherit your whole estate without any taxes. But having no will might mean that your spouse’s marital deduction will be forfeited.

What Happens to Your Children?

Source: thelawdictionary.org

Unless you write a will where you name your children as beneficiaries, the court will be the one deciding the rights of your children. As such, parents must consider planning their estate if they want to make sure their children will inherit the assets they desire.

Although the state judges will do their best to ensure the children get the proper guardianship, the court does not know the family’s situation. They are unaware of the family’s dynamics, making it hard for them to decide what is best for the kids. So, by writing a will, you can safeguard your children’s future.

What Happens to Your Money?

Source: bloomberg.com

The fate of your money will be determined by your state. Each state has different rules – therefore, what applies for one state may not apply for another. This is why you should research the intestate laws where you live to know what happens to your funds.

The money distribution process will involve going into probate court. Then, someone will be named as a personal representative to take over the distribution of your money and belongings.

When probate takes place, all creditor claims are cut off at the beginning of the process. What makes this so convenient is the fact that there will be only three months left for the creditors to file claims. The court will then pay off your debts, after which your heirs will receive the assets left.

The person named as heir will depend on various factors, as there are certain priority rules. Generally, first priority is given to the spouse. After the spouse come the children, grandchildren, parents and, lastly, siblings. If there are two children but no spouse, they can be named co-heirs, although in some cases, just one will be appointed.

Dying Without a Will and Single – What Happens?

Source: forbes.com

Not everyone who dies without a will is married. So, if you are single, what will happen to your assets?

Well, it depends on who is next in line based on the priority rules. If you are single but have children, then equal shares of your estate will be given to them. In case one of your children has passed away before you did and he or she has children, their share will go to the grandchildren instead.

If you have no children, though, the estate will go to your parents as long as they are still alive. When the parents have passed away before you, then the estate will be divided among the remaining siblings.

The Bottom Line

Dying without a will can make your family experience a lot of difficulties. The probate process can be quite long, and the estate may not go to the right individuals, nor may the right family members become your children’s guardians. This is why writing a will should be a priority for anyone owning certain properties/valuables.