A will ensures that your personal and financial assets are given to the people and organizations you want. Having a will is part of having an estate plan. It also allows you to choose the person you want to settle your affairs, known as your personal representative. The time to have a will prepared is typically the same time people have a power of attorney and healthcare proxy forms prepared, according to the article “What Happens if You Die Without a Will?” from The Street.
Your estate plan is the term used to describe having all of these and other tools prepared to work together. It has nothing to do with the size of your estate, which could be modest or major. Regardless of the financial size or complexity of your life, you need an estate plan.
What happens without a will?
A married person with children who dies without a will does the family a great disservice. All property, including real estate, investments, and accounts that are jointly owned with the spouse go to the co-owner without needing to go through probate. However, separately owned property and accounts are distributed by the state in the absence of a will.
In Florida, if the surviving spouse and the decedent share the same children, then the surviving spouse will inherit all the assets 100%. If there is a child or children of the decedent that is not a child of the surviving spouse then the surviving spouse will inherit 50% of the estate and the child or children will inherit the remaining 50%. If the children are minors, the funds will be held in an account only accessible with court approval. The family may find itself without sufficient funds to maintain its lifestyle.
A person who is married but has no children or grandchildren and dies without a will may have their entire estate given to the surviving spouse. This means that once that person dies none of his or her assets would go to his or her family members such as parents, siblings, or nieces and nephews.
What about a single person with children? With no will, the state law gives the decedent’s assets to surviving children in equal shares. If an adult child is deceased, their share is split among their own children (the decedent’s grandchildren). However, if the children are minors, the money is subject to court control and supervision under guardianship. The guardianship will last until the child attains the age of 18.
If someone who is single and has no children dies, the state usually gives their assets to surviving parents. If the parents are not living, the assets will be distributed to the decedent’s siblings, or nephews and nieces, if the siblings have also passed. The state will reference a consanguinity chart—a chart used to help identify relationships of people showing degrees of family relationships by blood or marriage. Assets may pass to distant cousins who have never met or even known of the existence of the decedent.
If there are no living family members, the estate typically goes to the state itself.
When a member of an unmarried couple dies without a will, the surviving partner has no legal rights at all. Only spouses and relatives are recognized by state law. The partner will not inherit anything; assets will pass as if the person was single.
An experienced estate planning attorney can create a will and related documents to ensure your wishes are carried out upon your death. Otherwise, your estate will be distributed according to the laws of your state. You can protect yourself and your loved ones with a will.
Reference: The Street (Jan. 2, 2023) “What Happens if You Die Without a Will?”