If you want to ensure that your estate is given to certain beneficiaries after you pass away, you need to have a will. This is especially important if you want some of your assets to be handed over to an unmarried partner, friend or nonprofit organization. Without a will, your death will be classified as “intestate.”
When this happens, the court will determine who gets your estate, which can lead to certain people being left out or not receiving what you intended, due to current laws. If you own assets in different states, they will be handled under the unique intestacy laws of those states.
An estate is typically handed over to “heirs” in the form of split shares, which can include anyone in your family. If no relatives are found, the state will obtain the estate in its entirety. Where these laws vary most is in your relationship status. The following is a breakdown of what happens when a person dies without a will in different situations.
If You’re Single
If someone who is single and childless passes away without a will, their entire estate will be handed over to their parents provided they’re both alive. If this is not the case, the assets are divided among the siblings and surviving parent if there is one. Children of single parents will generally receive the entire estate in equal portions.
In the event that no parents, siblings or descendants of those siblings (nephews and nieces) are alive, then the estate is split equally between relatives on the mother’s and father’s side. To sum it up, the closest surviving relatives are usually given the estate.
With married couples, it usually depends on how the partner’s assets are owned when they die. For instance, with community property, it will likely go entirely to the surviving spouse. With split property, it will be shared among the surviving spouse, siblings and parents. A partner that was married with children typically receives the entire estate.
For unmarried couples who were living together, dying without a will can cause serious problems. This is because intestacy laws only recognize those who are officially in a relationship or are relatives. The only exception is if a person’s intentions are clearly written, otherwise the estate will be divided among relatives as explained above.
If you have issues in a situation like this or are struggling with the estate of a loved one who passed away, you can enlist the help of a probate attorney to ensure that the assets are handled appropriately. This page on probate by attorney Cline Jensen explains more about what you can expect in the process.
These types of relationships are not recognized by all states and special rules often apply. It’s important to check the rules of your particular state for how domestic partnerships are handled. Generally speaking, the distribution will be similar to that of a traditional partnership.
Estate planning can be a headache, so be sure to consider the help of a legal professional when it’s needed.