Dying without a will is also known as dying intestate. Basically, this means that because you did not provide an outline for your assets’ distribution to your loved ones after your death, the court must determine which heirs have the right to inherit your assets, then distribute them to these heirs on your behalf. This can be a complicated, contentious process.
Writing a will is not difficult and it is also not the entirety of the estate planning process. Your will is one of the documents that comprise your estate plan. Others can include an advance medical directive, a revocable living trust, and a document designating a specific loved one as having power of attorney for you in the event that you become incapacitated.
Your State’s Intestacy Laws Determine How Your Assets are Distributed to Your Loved Ones
When an individual dies without a will, which heirs receive his or her assets depend on his or her state’s intestacy laws. The distribution of the deceased’s assets occurs during the probate process, which is the legal process of working through his or her estate to pay off the deceased’s outstanding debts and taxes, distribute the assets within, and eventually close the estate.
If you are married or have children, your spouse or your children will receive your assets if you die intestate. If you have both, the assets could be split between your spouse and children, according to general guidelines like 50% to the spouse and the other 50% to be divided among the surviving children. When there is no spouse or children, the deceased’s estate may be distributed among his or her next closest relatives, who could be his or her parents, siblings, or further relatives like aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Your Will is Your Opportunity to Make Your Wishes for Your Assets Known
By writing a will, you can provide more specific instructions for your assets’ transfer to your beneficiaries after your death. For example, you can instruct that one of your houses be transferred to your first child and leave another house to your second child.
Having a will does not exempt your estate from the probate process. It does, however, make the probate process easier by providing the court with clear instructions for your assets’ distribution. To ensure that the will is valid, have it notarized. In some states, notarization is required for a will and in others, it is not. Talk to your lawyer about writing and notarizing your will.
Work with an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer
Making concrete, proactive estate plans now will save your family time, money, and emotional distress later. Do not put off making estate plans – anybody with assets, regardless of his or her age and health status, should have a will and other estate documents in place. To learn more about estate planning, contact our team of estate planning lawyers at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. today to set up your initial consultation in our office.