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What happens when someone dies without a will?

by | Jan 21, 2020 | Estate Planning

Everyone has a task they put off, time and time again. Writing a will is one of those for many Americans. In fact, as according to a Caring.com 2019 survey, 57% of U.S. adults don’t have a will or living trust. Yet, most of us know that we can’t take our assets or possessions with us when we die. So, what happens when someone dies without a will?

Going through probate

First, every estate, whether someone has a will or not, goes through probate. During probate for someone’s estate without a will, the court will appoint someone to serve as a personal representative for the deceased. The court also will be more involved in how any assets are distributed.

For those without a will, their spouse becomes the first person to receive any assets of the deceased’s estate. If the deceased dies without a spouse, their surviving children will receive any estate assets. If the deceased passes away with no surviving spouse or children, the deceased’s parents or siblings will receive their estate assets.

The benefits of having a will

The advantages of having a will are numerous. First, you can decide you will be the personal representative of your estate and give specific instructions how you want your assets distributed. You can give assets to close friends if you’d like. Also, you can disinherit someone who otherwise may inherit part of your estate.

Other advantages include the following:

  • The probate process will take considerably less time. Without the court’s involvement, any estate assets will pass through probate faster.
  • You can minimize your estate taxes, leaving more money behind for your heirs.
  • You can give some of your assets as a donation to your favorite charity or organization.
  • You can help avoid legal challenges for your estate’s asset distribution. With a legal will, your wishes will be noted, and it will be more difficult for anyone to contest how your assets are divided.

Having a will is just part of an estate plan, but the most essential element. If you don’t have one, it’s never too late to create one. When you do, you’ll have peace of mind that you have done your part to protect your family or loved ones from dealing with a difficult probate process.