We’ve all had those moments. You’re just about to step off the curb and a car whooshes by to beat the light. Your tire blows out when you’re on the road and you make it to the shoulder just in time. Or you suddenly realize that it’s your tenth wedding anniversary and you forgot to get that someone special a present (again). The point is, your life flashes before your eyes. And a certain morbid train of thought begins. What would happen if I died right now? No really, who would plan my funeral and get all my stuff? And what if I don’t have a will?
If you die without a will in place, you’ve died “intestate,” which is Latin for ‘you didn’t plan ahead sucka!’ (JK. It’s Latin for “not witnessed.” Close enough.) When that happens, your state’s “intestacy laws” – which vary depending on whether you’re married, have kids, etc. – will use a set of rules to determine how your property is distributed and who gets it. In most instances, your close family members will inherit and split your property. If no close relatives are found, the state will search for more distant relatives (oh hey there, third cousin Timmy). And if not even distant relatives can be located, then your property eventually goes to the state. Since intestate laws only recognize relatives, absent a written will, your best friend, live-in partner, and/or favorite charity would be left out in the cold :(.
Here are how a few common scenarios* might play out:
*Remember though, exact intestate laws vary depending on the state you live in.
All My Single Ladies (and Gents!)
If you’re single (no spouse, no kids), your parents would receive your entire estate in equal shares. If you have no surviving parents, then your estate would be equally divided among your siblings (or their children, if any sibling is deceased). If there are no parents, siblings, or sibling’s children, then your estate would be divided in half between relatives on your mother’s side and father’s side.
Married, No Kids
If you’re married, all of the community property you own would go to your surviving spouse, along with half of your separate property (the property you own that is not part of the marital estate). The other half of your separate property will be divided among your parents and siblings, if any are surviving. In some cases – depending on the state and how your property is owned – your surviving spouse would inherit your entire estate.
Married With Kids
If you only have one child, your estate would be split 50/50 between the child and your surviving spouse. If you have more than one child, your spouse would receive ⅓ of your estate and the children would equally split the other ⅔. In some cases, if the surviving spouse is also the surviving parent of all the children, the spouse would receive the entire estate.
Since intestacy laws only recognize relatives, an unmarried surviving partner would not inherit any property without a will. Registered domestic partners, however, would inherit similar to a spouse.
So if you don’t want your evil stepmother or your least favorite brother to get any of your stuff, you’ll need to create a will in order to bypass those intestate rules. And even if you’re totally fine with how intestate succession plays out, a will still helps streamline the probate process by making it clear to the court what your final wishes are.
So, why wait? Create an estate plan today. With Qwill, it’s free, easy, and takes less than ten minutes! iPhone users can check us out in the app store.
Alicia is a fearless legal warrior who proudly notes that – during her very first oral argument in court – she defeated a team of opposing counsel who had a combined total of > 100 years of litigation experience (take that patriarchy!). Before joining Qwill as Director of Ops and Legal, Alicia spent five years representing consumers in cases involving privacy rights, false advertising, and consumer fraud. She’s passionate about meditation, self-actualization, and improving the world.