Dying Without a Will Could Devastate Your Family

Dying without a will removes a person's rights to decide how assets are distributed.  Whether the estate is minimal or substantial, everyone wants to ensure that their wishes are carried out when it comes to claiming possessions, disbursing assets or outlining custody of minor children. In the event of someone dying without a will, that person is said to have died "intestate," or without legal direction on what should happen to their property.

When there is no will to direct how the deceased person wants to divide their assets, it is left to the courts to decide for them. While the court will always try to be fair, it may or may not take in special considerations that the deceased may have wanted. For example, most state courts will rule that if a married man without children dies, his estate should be divided between his wife and his parents, even if he always intended to leave everything to his wife.

There are generalities that most state courts follow when disbursing property if someone dies without a will. If the deceased was married with no children, all communal property is immediately transferred to the spouse. Any separate assets would split between the spouse and the deceased's parents. If there are children from the marriage, the property would be divided between the spouse and the children. If someone dies without a spouse, children, parents, brothers or sisters, nieces or nephews, grandparents, uncles and aunts or relatives of a deceased spouse, then the property would be turned over to the state.

Without a will, the court will designate the guardianship of any minor children. Rather than having minor children cared for by whoever the deceased preferred, the courts or the Department of Social Services may make recommendations or decisions about who the children's legal guardians will be.

Dying without a will also subjects an estate to costs and charges made from the administrator of the estate in disbursing the assets, the court fees, any attorney fees and costs of any errors. Often, some of the assets must be sold or liquidated to pay for these costs, reducing what is disbursed to family members.

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