What Happens When A Family Member Dies Without A Will?

Some people never get around to making out a formal will, thinking there will be plenty of time for them to do this, while others simply believe that because they don’t have much assets, a will isn’t necessary. It’s a common misconception that whatever real estate and liquid assets they own will automatically be transferred to their next of kin upon their death, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Here’s what can happen if you die without having a legal will in place:

Those who pass away without a will are considered to have to died “intestate,” which basically means that the handling of their assets is left in the hands of the state. State laws can vary wildly from one to the other as well as change within individual states as applicable laws are enacted and changed. If you own property in a different state, that property will be handled according to that state’s intestate statutes. Nonetheless, intestate laws are similar enough across state lines that they follow the same general pattern of property distribution, but it still may a good idea to discuss the situation with a qualified real estate attorney.

Single and Single With Children

This situations are generally among the least complex when it comes to sorting out property and assets in the aftermath of a death by someone who failed to leave a will. In cases of those who die childless, property and assets are divided among the parent if they are living and any siblings if the parents have already passed on. In the absence of siblings, the courts will award the estate in equal parts to surviving relatives of both parents.

The property and assets of those with children who die without a will are generally divided in equal parts among the children.

Married Couples With and Without Children

Those who are married with often make the mistake of believing that their estate will automatically be granted to their spouses upon their death, but this isn’t always the case. Some types of property may be split equally between the spouse and your next of kin, such as parents or siblings. If children from a prior relationship are a part of the picture, those children will also have a legal claim on all but community property.

Unmarried Couples

Those in domestic partnerships are perhaps the most vulnerable to the negative consequences of not being covered in a loved one’s will. Because intestacy laws only recognize relatives, including legal spouses, people in domestic partnerships are often left out in the cold after their partners pass away. The house they lived in for years and considered their home, for instance, may end up in the hands of their deceased partner’s parents, siblings, children, or even distant relatives in the absence of any of the former.

Some states do recognize domestic partnerships to at least some extent, especially if they’re formed by signing a state registry, but making out a clear and concise will remains the most effective way to ensure that your loved one is protected in the event of your unexpected demise.

Please feel free to contact Oaktree Law for more information on creating a will.