Updated: January 18, 2024
What are the consequences if you don’t arrange a will before passing away? Unless you have non probate assets such as trusts and jointly owned property, or have used other methods to pass on your estate, everything about the fate of your estate will be out of your hands.
You will also be intestate if a court determines your will is improperly drafted and deems it invalid. This is the primary concern when you create a will yourself.
Your next of kin are those people who are legally designated as your closest family members. They may also be referred to as heirs. Inheritance laws do not distinguish between biological relations and adoptive relations, but do not recognize stepchildren as heirs.
Even without a will, all jointly-owned property goes to the spouse. Ten states have community property laws where any property acquired by you and/or spouse during your marriage is jointly owned by the “marital community.” The remaining states have common property, where ownership is defined in other ways, which affects how the property is distributed in a different way.
When a person dies without a will or has their will invalidated for whatever reason, the legal term is that they die intestate. This means the state becomes the executor of the estate, i.e. is responsible for locating your legal heirs and distributing your probate estate. An administrator is chosen by the probate court. Their goal is to try and duplicate how the average person would disperse their estate if they had a will. They may not take into account your wishes, the needs of your family and relatives, or any other relationships.
When the state settles your estate, Probate Court agents decide how to divide your individual property, including who receives what and in what order, based on the Uniform Probate Code and/or state-specific laws.
If your state does not recognize the Uniform Property Code, you will need to check the inheritance laws in your state.
In states recognizing the Uniform Probate Code.
Any blood relative can stake a claim to the estate and the state may not consider the family’s circumstances. For example, if a relative needed money for life-saving treatment and you were planning on helping her pay for it but you died before doing it or directing it to be done in your will, they would not get any money unless they were your closest surviving relative.
Most states have rules preventing people who have harmed you from receiving inheritance. For example:
The court will be able to establish guardianship for your children based on its determination as to the children’s best interests.
Survivors of a registered Domestic Partnership are included in some states, but unmarried partners, close friends, and business partners are not on the list.