What are the consequences if you don’t arrange a will before passing away? Everything about the fate of your estate will be out of your hands and your assets are distributed to your next of kin (i.e. your closest family members) even if that is not what you wanted. In other words, any non-family member or charity you would have wanted to be a beneficiary would not receive anything, unless they were joint owners of an asset. In the case that you have no next of kin, your assets are taken by the state.
Your next of kin are those people who are legally designated as your closest family members. Inheritance laws do not distinguish between biological relations and adoptive relations. State intestate inheritance laws may be different from those who will get an inheritance from you when you die with a will.
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. It is usually split between your primary next of kin, your spouse, and children.
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 state-specific laws.
Under the Code, your surviving spouse is either entitled to all of the net estate — remainder of estate after paying your expenses and taxes — or a substantial part of it. For example:
Any blood relative can stake a claim to the estate and the state may not consider the family’s circumstances.
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.
You may 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. The future State-specific Estate Planning Information section will have Inheritance By Relationship tables for your state. They may also be found at the following resources.