Dying without a will happens more often than you might think. Aretha Franklin. Prince. Howard Hughes. Celebrity or not, if you neglect taking the time to compile a legal document that outlines your full and complete wishes for your assets and the minors in your care, there can be life-changing consequences for the people left behind.
These are the top three negative unintended consequences of dying without a will:
1. Your Heirs Must Spend Time and Money to Locate Your Assets
As soon as the asset distribution process begins and your surviving loved ones realize you have no will, it’s going to cost them. With no executor appointed, a judge will have to determine who should locate and catalog all of your assets.
The individual chosen will be required to comb through bank statements, tax returns, email folders, file cabinets and more to get the details on policies, accounts and plans you own. This will take both time and money, and can be an exhausting process for a family member who is grieving. Not to mention, the person the judge appoints to administer your estate may not be who you would have preferred managing your private financial affairs.
2. Intestate Succession Could Leave Your Assets to the Wrong Parties
When you die “intestate,” meaning “without a will,” your assets pass to your survivors according to intestate succession laws.
However, there are many assets that are not governed by intestate succession laws, including:
- Property you own through joint tenancy with another party
- IRAs or retirement accounts
- Life insurance policies
- Any assets contained in a living trust
These assets will pass to the beneficiary named on the account or the other joint owner will assume full property rights after you die.
But all other assets, such as savings accounts, checking accounts, property owned by you solely, etc. will follow intestate succession laws:
- If you die with children, but no spouse, children inherit everything.
- If you die with spouse, but no children or parents, spouse inherits everything.
- If you die with spouse and children, your spouse gets 50 percent of your estate and your children divide the remaining 50 percent.
- If you die with spouse and parents, your spouse gets the first $200,000 of your estate, plus half of the balance, and parents receive the remainder.
These strict succession rules do not account for many individuals’ specific wishes, and that’s why a will is so vital. For example, stepchildren and foster children are not included in intestate succession unless you have legally adopted them.
What if your first spouse dies and you remarry late in life? You may wish to leave the majority of your estate to the children from your first marriage. If you don’t devise a will to state just that, your second spouse will receive half of your assets. When they die, their assets (which now include 50 percent of yours) will pass to their children – not yours.
3. You Lose Control Over the Guardianship Choice of Minor Children
Dying without a will is most complex when there are children involved, especially when the children don’t have another living parent. If you don’t have a will that includes a named guardian you wish to care for the minor children, the court will appoint a person for this role. This person may or may not be suitable or ideal for this responsibility, and it may result in litigation between this individual and other relatives who are both vying for custody of the children.
Talk about an ugly situation. It’s avoidable when you leave behind a will with specific guardianship provisions in place to guarantee your children end up in the best scenario possible.
Creating a will doesn’t have to be a painful, painstaking process. Work with slnlaw and see how we’re different. We know our clients are real people with real needs, and we believe a thoughtful, precise estate plan is sure to take a weight off your shoulders.