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If you want to make sure that your property goes to the right people after you pass away, then it is essential to have a properly drafted and executed will.
If you were to pass away without a will, then your property will be distributed according to your state's default laws of distribution, known as intestacy laws. This can cause a lot of chaos among your loved ones.
There are many circumstances under which a person would die without a valid will. A person may:
In those situations, state intestacy laws will kick in. While all of the states have the primary objective of trying to distribute your estate to your next of kin (spouse, children, siblings, etc.), the states interpret that objective differently and distribute property to different relatives in different percentages.
The distribution of property in an intestate estate depends both on the state that takes charge of your estate and which relatives are alive.
Most, if not all, states will provide a surviving spouse with a percentage of the estate. If you have children, then they are also likely to receive a percentage of the estate. That percentage may be higher if the children are yours but not your surviving spouse's. Some states also allow surviving parents to receive a portion of the estate.
If you die without a spouse or children, then the estate will most likely pass to your parents if they are still living. If your parents are dead, then the property will likely pass to your siblings. If there are no siblings, then the property could go to surviving grandparents or aunts, uncles, or cousins.
If the court cannot track down any living relatives then the proceeds of the estate usually revert to the state.
It is important to note that intestacy laws only applies property that is part of your estate. Any jointly held property like real estate, bank accounts, or brokerage accounts are not part of the probate estate. Likewise, life insurance proceeds are not part of the estate and instead go to the stated beneficiary.
Intestacy laws are not perfect. They may not distribute your property according to your wishes. That is why it's always the right time to start thinking about creating an estate plan.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified estate planning lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local estate planning attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.