You Die Without a Will. What Happens Next? Probate Attorneys Answer

Life is completely unpredictable. 

That’s why it’s important to enjoy every small moment, dare to do the risky things you feel are right to do, say “I love you” more often, and finally have a will just in case something happens. 

Have you ever asked, “What happens if I die without a will?” We asked probate attorneys this question and prepared this complete guide with infographics to give you answers to these questions. 

(Be careful! After reading this article, you may be motivated to write your own will.)

Benefits of Creating a Will on Time

Let’s start on a positive note with the key benefits of drafting a will on time: 

  • Piece of mind. Imagine the feeling that comes with knowing that all your belongings will be protected even after your death. You also won’t need to worry about your family members struggling to figure out what to do with any assets that are included in your will.

We love this quote from Lyle Solomon

  • Desired distribution of assets. Wills are imperative for ensuring that a person’s assets are distributed according to his or her wishes.

Take this real-life situation from Michael Shapot:

  • Limited state involvement. With a properly drafted and up-to-date will, the state will have less involvement in the management of a person’s personal belongings. Additionally, a will can exclude certain people that a probate court would otherwise include. 

    That’s why creating a will is not only recommended but a must-have step.

Infographics: What Happens If You Die Without a Will

The following general infographics are based on the answers provided by the probate attorneys we interviewed. These will give  a general idea of what happens if you die without a will in different scenarios: 
*Note that state laws and regulations differ considerably, so you may want to consult with a local probate attorney.

Some other scenarios

If you’re married and have children from a previous relationship:

If you have a domestic partnership:

4 Worst-Case Scenarios When One Dies Without a Will

Having a general idea of what happens if a person dies without a will can be helpful when preparing for the loss of a loved one. There are some consequences. However, that may encourage a person to leave a will behind. The following worst-case scenarios may happen if a person dies without a will: 

Conflict between beneficiaries

A popular belief, which often becomes the basis for television or movie plots, is that something about wills brings out the worst side of human nature. Even though family members may dispute a will or fight because of what is or isn’t in the will, the lack of a will or other documents can lead to conflict and confusion for those left behind. Just like Mark Sadaka mentions:

Uncontrolled distribution of assets

Unfortunately, the riskiest and most common situation that may happen if a person dies without a will is the complete lack of control over the distribution of assets. Even if a family member knows what the deceased person’s true wishes were, the court must make these decisions when there is no will. Follow this tip from Lorie Burch:

The state’s right to escheat

If a person has no close relatives left, all of his or her assets could escheat to the state. Most people want their property to go to their family or friends when they pass away. These include distant relatives or lifelong friends who may not otherwise be considered by the probate court. Other people may choose an organization to benefit from the assets they leave behind. The last place the majority of these people want their assets to go is the government. However, Matthew F. Erskine highlight that there is a possibility that it will happen:

Expensive guardianship over assets

A person’s loved ones may need to create an expensive guardianship over the assets that have been left to minor children. As Jeffrey Skatoff puts it:

Steps To Take If Your Spouse or Parents Die Without a Will

To avoid the above-mentioned worst-case scenarios, consider the following steps immediately after a loved one passes away:

Gather financial documents and tax returns

The first thing after a funeral is to identify what assets the deceased controlled (not owned) at the time of his or her death.

Take it from Mark Sadaka:

There is a significant difference between controlled and owned assets, as Matthew F. Erskine describes:

Most commonly, non-probate assets are when the decedent owned assets jointly with another or where the asset has a beneficiary designation, such as life insurance, annuities, or retirement accounts. Other non-probate assets are those that have a pay-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) designation. 

Contact financial institutions

When a spouse or parent dies, put banks, creditors, and others on notice that he or she has passed by delivering a copy of the death certificate. Take it from Paul Cain:

Be appointed as an administrator of the deceased’s estate

Tanner James shares some valuable advice on being appointed as the administrator of a loved one’s estate: 

Get professional advice from a probate attorney

If you have questions about the probate process after the death of a close loved one, it may be helpful to seek advice from an experienced probate attorney. Take all possible steps to reduce risk. Lorie Burch mentions: 

Situations When a Will Becomes a Necessity

As Jeffrey Skatoff, Managing Attorney at Clark Skatoff PA, said, “One’s age is less important than one’s stage in life.”

Having a will is important in many, if not most, family situations. However, the following are conditions when having a will is not just a recommended step but a necessity to take care of a person’s future and the future of his or her loved ones:

  1. The person owns a property (any substantial assets). 
  2. The person is in a serious relationship (but not legally married).
  3. The person has minor children. 
  4. The person has a bank account with more than $50,000. 

Conclusion

The truth is that your loved ones will not automatically get an inheritance. It may happen. However, there is no guarantee without an up-to-date, legally binding will.

A will allows a person to provide peace of mind to his or her loved ones. The document makes it easier for the family to follow the person’s instructions after he or she passes away. To help people prepare for this inevitable future, it is now easier than ever to make a will with the Lawrina Template Builder. Unless you have a large estate, complicated family dynamics, or feel that you need expert advice, you may be able to prepare your own basic will on your own using a template. 

Now is the time to take care of your loved ones and your assets.

Article by Sofi Ostymchuk

Sofi Ostymchuk is a Content Lead and Legal Writer at Lawrina. Sofi manages the content on the blog, communicates with contributors, looks for interesting topics, and creates articles in cooperation with lawyers and law experts. If you would like to be a blogger for Lawrina, you can contact Sofi for all the details via email at s.ostymchuk@lawrina.com.

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