What Happens When You Die without a Last Will?

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It can be uncomfortable to think of death when one still has several years to live through. But it will help set the proper mindset when crafting a last will.

A will is an essential legal document that specifies how a person’s assets or estate should be divided and distributed to surviving heirs. Additionally, it can also settle the question of who should have custody of young children.

However, not everyone makes time to write a will and engage in estate planning. Even prominent celebrities like Prince and Aretha Franklin died without having left a last will.

What happens when someone dies without writing one?

Possible scenarios

When a person passes without preparing a will, the relevant state (where that person lived)  will temporarily take control of assets. The state will then determine who the heirs and estate executors will be. The process and other specific details will vary as inheritance laws are different across countries.

In the case of Prince, Minnesota decided that his entire estate should be distributed to his sister and half-siblings. Aside from being divorced from his wife, he did not have any surviving children, and his parents were no longer alive. Hence, the probate court’s decision.

If there are children involved, it’s up to the court to appoint a legal guardian — with the children’s best interests in mind. The decision would be based on a particular family’s circumstances and relationships with relatives or other close friends.

Additionally, a person could fail to take advantage of valuable tax benefits for their spouse. A surviving spouse can inherit an entire estate tax-free if there is a last will.

Lawyer with an urn

Some key points to consider when writing a will

While it’s crucial to prepare a will for the benefit of the surviving spouse and children, it’s also vital to do it the right way.

Outlining burial plans or discussions with a funeral director in a will might not be the best strategy. Estate and probate proceedings usually happen only after the funeral. These types of final preparations can be detailed in a separate document or discussed in person with family and loved ones.

In several cases, it’s best to write a will with guidance from a lawyer. This is especially true if the estate is worth $5 million or more. An attorney can give proper advice on the creation of trusts in the event of untimely death. When significant assets are involved, best to avoid leaving inheritance issues to chance.

A person should consider if a potential guardian is physically and financially fit to care for a child. If he or she has children, one should also see if the child can get along with them. Additionally, a person can assign a custodian — aside from the guardian — who can manage a child’s inheritance. However, the guardian and custodian need to get along as well.

There are many more factors to consider in writing a will and estate planning. It can seem challenging at the start, so don’t hesitate to seek the advice of experts or even some family members who have done it successfully.

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