Do you have a will? If not, you have plenty of company. Recent studies show that 55% of adult Americans lack a will. However, there are compelling reasons to create a will soon. For starters, even though we are living longer, we cannot predict when we will move along. Also, without a will, some of your assets will get tied up in probate and may be distributed in ways you wouldn’t like.
What Happens If You Don’t Have a Will?
If you’ve done some basic estate planning, some of your assets may follow the path you desire. This includes, for example, joint tenancy accounts, assets with named beneficiaries, and assets in trust.
All other assets will be subject to a legal process known as probate. They will be distributed according to your state’s intestacy laws, which govern the distribution of assets of those who die without a will. Most intestacy laws rank heirs as follows:
- Spouse, children, other descendants
- Siblings and children of deceased siblings
- Other kin
- The state
You’re out of luck if you wouldn’t have distributed your assets to the people and in the amounts described by state law.
Without a will, state law will also determine who will be the administrator of your estate. In most cases, the administrator will be a closely-related heir. If there is more than one closely-related heir, the heirs have to choose. If they cannot decide, the court will decide for them. Again, the administrator may not be your ideal choice.
What a Will Does
When you have a will, you decide who will inherit your assets and how much. You can leave assets to a domestic partner, friends, charities, and even pets. Without a will, assets will only go to your heirs, as defined by your state.
A will also allows you to omit heirs. If you are not comfortable giving assets to an individual, you can prevent them from inheriting.
With a will, you do not have to leave equal shares to your heirs. You can divide your assets however you like.
Overall, a will allows you to decide to whom your assets go to and how much they receive. Without a will, the state decides. This is why it is important to not only have a will, but to make certain it is regularly updated to reflect changes in your life.