There are many reasons why a person might pass away without having written a will, but regardless of the reason, dying without it means you die intestate. When this occurs, your assets will go through probate in a process known as intestate succession. While letting the courts handle the division of assets may sound advantageous, there are a few very important things you need to know about intestate succession.
Intestacy Laws Vary by State
Every state has different succession laws that dictate who gets what with particular priority. Generally speaking, the line of succession is as follows:
- Next of kin
However, this line will vary slightly depending on your state. While the courts generally try to divide your property as evenly as possible, people higher on the succession will likely get more.
Certain Assets Aren’t Included
If an asset has a transfer on death (TOD) or payable on death (POD), it will not be included in the succession line, and it will immediately go to the stated beneficiary. This includes but is not limited to living trusts, real estate, life insurance proceeds, bank accounts, and retirement accounts.
Additionally, whether the property is considered community or separate property will affect the division of assets. For example, in some states, even if you and your spouse buy a home—which is considered community property—it will go straight to the named heir. These laws are very complex, and fortunately, one of the benefits of hiring an estate planning attorney is that they can help you write a will to avoid these complications.
Not Everyone Is Involved in Intestate Succession
One of the most important things you need to know about intestate succession is that, unfortunately, not every loved one or family member can be included. If you have a blended family, this can cause some significant problems. Adopted and biological children are included in the succession line, but stepchildren and foster children are not included in the intestate line. Additionally, if there’s a friend or business partner you want to provide for, they won’t be included in the succession line either, as the line only includes those related by blood and marriage.
Wills aren’t just for the sick or wealthy, and you should work with an estate planning attorney to write one as soon as possible. Ultimately, it will save you, your family, and your loved ones from a lot of heartache.