Having a will is crucial in order to ensure that your estate is properly dispersed after you pass away. Unfortunately, 55% of American's do not create a will before their death. Your state has laws in place that will decide on who administers your estate, takes control of any assets you owned, and provides care for your children if they are still minors.
State Laws Determine Who Is In Charge
If your estate needs to go through probate, the state court decides who will be your estate's administrator. The necessity of probate is determined by how big your estate is in terms of assets, with each state having their own limits. There is a priority list that the court will go through to decide on an estate administrator. They will start with a surviving spouse and then any surviving children that are not minors.
If probate is not necessary, the proceedings are usually very informal where a close family member decides on how to divide assets.
Succession Laws Determines What Everyone Inherits
Without a will or estate plan, there will be no way to determine who your assets should go to. Each state has succession laws that determine who receives your assets. It is typically limited to spouses and any blood relatives, with unmarried partners and friends not having a legal claim to anything.
It is common for surviving spouses to get the biggest share, especially if there aren't any surviving children. Without a surviving spouse or child, assets will go to a close blood relative. If the state cannot find any relatives, the state will take all your assets.
Many assets have predetermined beneficiaries where a will is not needed to pass along the inheritance. For example, a life insurance policy will have a beneficiary listed when the policy was purchased. Real estate may have a joint owner that is still alive, and they would fully inherit the property. Retirement funds require a beneficiary that will receive the assets upon your death as well.
Judges Decide Guardianship of Children
If you have children that are still minors, the best way to decide who will take care of your child after you pass away is by creating a will. Without a will in place a judge will need to decide who their legal guardian will be. They will try to make the best decision possible based off information that they have gathered, but may not always make the decision you would have wanted.
If you need help creating a will, you should contact an estate planning attorney to help you out. They will be able to walk you through the process so you do not forget to include anything important when creating your will.