What Happens If You Don’t Have A Will?

What Happens If You Don’t Have A Will?

At some point or another, many people end up asking themselves what will happen to their money and belongings after they die? Well, there are two possible answers. Firstly, if you pass away and do not have a will written, then this means you have died intestate. Thus, your assets will be overseen and distributed by the court. However, if you have a legally-binding will, then your assets will be handled based on the preferences you express within this document. All in all, by having at least a will written, you are more prepared for the future to come and have ensured that your loved ones will receive what you want them to have from your estate.

Intestate succession is the process of distributing assets to heirs when someone passes away without a will, or when their will has been deemed invalid. So not only is it imperative that you have a will, but it needs to be legally effective. With intestate succession, the court follows state laws and the estate goes through probate, which is often costly and time-consuming, causing heirs to experience a delay in receiving their inheritance. In fact, probate can take several months or up to a year or more to finalize. More complex cases may take even longer than that.

If you do not have a valid will when you die, the court will then distribute any property you have based on the rules of intestate succession. Meaning, your assets will be given to your closest relatives based on law, no matter what your relationship with that person may have been like in real life. Unfortunately, what can happen is someone that the deceased did not get along with may inherit a portion of their estate. Most people, upon learning about this detail, quickly become motivated to write a will and other estate plan documents, so that their money and belongings are not given to those they don’t want to have them.

With that being said, there are numerous assets that are not subject to intestate succession and probate laws, such as:

  • Property that has been transferred into a trust
  • Property that was owned jointly or as community property with the right of survivorship
  • Funds in an IRA, 401K, or other retirement accounts
  • Bank accounts that have a payable-on-death designation
  • Securities with a transfer-on-death designation
  • Vehicles with a transfer-on-death registration
  • Proceeds of life insurance that go directly to the beneficiary

As a personal injury lawyer at our friends Cohen & Cohen explains, there are many reasons to write an estate plan. Along with the risk of having your legacy be handled based on intestate law, in the event of a personal injury settlement, that could involve a substantial amount of money. Taking the time to write a proper will and estate plan is vital to protecting your assets and safeguarding what you have built over a lifetime. Through estate planning, you can rest easier knowing your assets are better protected now and into the future.

In summary, if you pass away and do not have an effective will, it could cause complications in how your estate is distributed to your relatives. If you want to ensure that your assets are protected and avoid the court becoming involved in your estate, then now is the time to devise a comprehensive estate plan.

Author Bio

Julianna Malis is the Founder and Managing Partner of Santa Barbara Estate Planning & Elder Law, a Santa Barbara estate planning law firm she founded in 2014. With more than 25 years of experience practicing law, she has dedicated her career to representing clients in a wide range of legal matters, including estate planning, elder law, Medicaid and Medicare planning, probate, and other estate planning areas.

Julianna received her Juris Doctor from the University of the Pacific — McGeorge School of Law and is a member of the California State Bar Association.

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