If I die without a will, who gets my assets?

Date: Jun 01, 2007
Document Type: Q&A

When someone dies without a will, he or she dies ‘intestate’. In each state, the law has arrangements for this which detail who gets what from the deceased’s estate and how this process is to be administered.  To do this, an executor (sometimes called an administrator) will be appointed to dispose of the estate.

The most obvious problem with this situation is that you have no say whatsoever; you don’t get to choose who gets what, you don’t get to make a unique statement to those you love and care about and you don’t get any say over who administers your estate. 

Furthermore, each state has slightly different rules about how your estate should be administered if you die without a will and this is a problem if you have assets in different states. 

In each state, however, the law’s formula for distributing your assets has a clear hierarchy starting with the immediate family; surviving spouse and/or children, followed by the nearest living relatives and then, if there are none, the government.  It may leave out friends or other loved ones you care about, and may be completely contrary to what you want.

Dying intestate often leaves families confused and can lead to unnecessary conflict at a very emotional and vulnerable  time for all concerned.  Your loved ones will be left second-guessing each other about your intentions and each may have very different ideas about what they think you wanted and what they feel they each deserve.

The whole process is more time consuming and expensive than if you had left them a valid will.

Even though the law provides a list of beneficiaries, that will not avoid any of these pitfalls. Only you can do that by writing a valid will that clearly states your intentions.

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