If you die without having created and signed a will, it means that you have died ‘intestate.’ If this happens, the intestacy laws of the state where you currently reside dictate the way in which your property is divided after you pass away. This includes all bank accounts, securities, real estate, and other assets you own at the time of your death. If you own real estate in a state other than the one where you currently reside, that property will be dealt with under the intestacy laws of the state where the property is actually located.
Laws of intestate succession vary widely depending on whether you were married or single, or had children when you passed away. Typically, your property is distributed evenly amongst your ‘heirs,’ which could include your surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and other distant relatives. If no relatives can be found then the entire estate typically goes to the state.
What Happens if you are Single and Die without a Will
If you are single and childless when you pass away, your parents will receive your entire estate if they both are still living. If one parent has passed away, your estate will be divided between your siblings, half siblings, and surviving parent. If both parents have passed away previously, then your estate will be divided evenly amongst your siblings. If there are no parents, siblings, nieces or nephews then the relatives on your mother’s side would inherit half of the estate, and the relatives on your father’s side would inherit the other half.
If you are single and have children when you pass away, then your estate will be divided evenly among them. If a child has died before you, then their portion of the estate would go to their children (your grandchildren).
What Happens if you are Married and Die without a Will
If you are married and die without a will, your estate will go entirely to your spouse if it is community/marital property. It will be split between your surviving spouse, siblings and parents if it is separate property.
If you are married and have children with your current spouse at the time of your passing, your entire estate will go to your surviving spouse. If you are married and have children with a former spouse or partner when you pass away, then your estate will be divided among your spouse and children.
What Happens if you are an Unmarried Couple and Die Without a Will
Intestacy laws only recognize relatives, and not unmarried couples who are living together. Consequently, your partner will not inherit any property when you pass away. Ultimately, your property will be divided up among your other relatives.
What Happens if you are in a Domestic Partnership and Die without a Will
The laws concerning domestic partnerships vary from state to state as not all states recognize domestic partnerships. Typically, if you die without a will, your surviving domestic partner will inherit your assets just as a surviving spouse would, depending on how you owned the property.
The Possibility of the State Inheriting Your Property
If you have no will and the probate court is unable to find any surviving relatives, then the state will inherit your property. This is actually unlikely to happen, as the court will work very hard to find some distant relation who will inherit your estate. It is very likely that this could be a complete stranger to you.
Having a will is essential for naming your beneficiaries. Even if you do not use a will to organize the distribution of property, it is also used to:
- Name an executor,
- Name personal guardians to look after any minor children, and
- Name property guardians to manage your minor children’s property.
The lesson here is that it is extremely important that everyone create and sign a will.