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What you might expect if you die without a will

A will is one of the most common legal documents around. It serves the very useful purpose for the will's maker of expressing clearly to the state and to potential heirs how an estate should be handled upon the author's death.

Many would likely agree that a will is such a common sense device to ensure that your desires are known and that your successors are relieved of difficult decisions that it is hard to fathom why everyone doesn't have one. Yet, the truth is that many people do not. Even when a will is in place, it often isn't properly updated to reflect changes of life that have occurred.

Regardless of the situation you face, these issues are easily remedied by getting in touch with an experienced estate planning attorney. To further reinforce the value and importance of a properly executed will, consider what could happen if you die without one.

  • If there is no spouse and no living relatives to be found: It is very possible that the entire estate will revert to the state.
  • If the decedent has no children: The typical default is that the estate of an unmarried person goes to that person's parents, if they are both alive. If one parent is dead, the estate will be split between the decedent's living parent and any siblings. If both parents are dead, the siblings get equal shares of the estate. Lacking parents, siblings or sibling descendants, maternal and paternal relatives split the estate.
  • If you were a single parent: Your children inherit equal shares of the estate. If a child preceded you in death and that child had children, the surviving grandchildren inherit that child's portion.
  • Married with no children: If a person dies while they are married but they do not have a will, all property goes to the decedent's surviving spouse.
  • Unmarried couples: This circumstance might include committed domestic partners. Much can depend on local laws, but in general, state intestacy laws only recognize direct relatives as heirs.

If you die without a will, it can get complicated and your property and assets may not go where you'd like them to go. Having a valid will in place, however, can result in fewer concerns for your loved ones and more peace of mind for you.

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