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Wills and estate planning

What happens to your estate if you die without a will?

Take the time now to create a will if you want to ensure the recipients of your assets. Otherwise, it can be up to the courts to determine how your assets will be distributed.

I don't have the money. I can't find the time. I don't know where to start.

People have their own reasons (and yes, sometimes excuses) for not writing a will. But have you ever wondered what would happen to your property if you were to die without one?

Dying without a will is to die “intestate.” This means that instead of you appointing someone to distribute your assets according to your wishes, a court-appointed executor will compile your assets, pay any liabilities (such as debts and taxes), and distribute what's left to individuals who are considered to be beneficiaries.

Each state has different laws as to how property is to be distributed when someone dies without a will or a trust. However, under general intestate succession laws, it's typically only spouses, blood relatives, and registered domestic partners who are allowed to inherit your assets. So, without a will, if you wanted to leave your assets to a non-registered domestic partner, a charity, or even friends, you can pretty much count on them receiving nothing. To read more about intestate succession rules in your state, visit the Living Trust Network and just click on your state.

Depending on the state, a common line of succession for the distribution of assets for someone who dies without a will or trust may be:

  1. A surviving spouse
  2. Children
  3. Parents
  4. Brothers, sisters, and their lineal descendants
  5. Grandparents and their lineal descendants
  6. Any next of kin
  7. The state

According to, if you're married and have no children, it's generally your spouse who will inherit all of your community property, and any separate property that is not real estate. If you die and the courts are unable to locate relatives, then the state will take it all.

Writing a will ensures that your friends and loved ones receive your estate when you die. You can write your will yourself, or have it made for you by a qualified estate planning attorney.




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