The quick answer is that the state will decide who gets your assets via the process of “intestate succession.” In general, assets are transferred to your closest surviving relatives. The most likely recipients are your spouse, your children, your parents, or your siblings. If you currently don’t have a will, you should contact a skilled estate planning attorney now.
Who Gets What When There Is No Will?
Intestate distribution often depends on the makeup of a person’s family at the time he/she passes. Since many family arrangements are unique, you should consult with an estate planning lawyer to learn how your specific assets will get distributed if you pass without a will. We have provided some general instructions below to help answer some early questions.
Note as well that some assets are not subject to a state’s intestate succession process. Examples include:
- Assets transferred to a living trust,
- Life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary,
- Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts, and
- Property owned with someone else in a joint tenancy.
What Happens if You’re Married?
If you die without a will and leave a spouse but no children, your spouse will inherit everything. However, if you leave a spouse and children, all of your community property and one-half of your separate property will go to your spouse and one-half of your separate property will go to your remaining children. In general, you acquire community property while you are married. Separate property is property that you acquire through inheritance or before your marriage.
If you die leaving a spouse and parents, but no children, then your spouse will inherit all of your community property and three-quarters of your separate property. Your parents would receive the remaining one-quarter of your separate property.
What Happens if You’re Single?
If you pass with children while you’re single, your children will inherit everything. If you don’t have children, then your parents will receive your property. But if your parents pre-decease you, then your property will pass to any remaining siblings.
What Happens if You’re Living with Someone?
Sometimes people pass while living with someone as a couple, but without being either married or in a legally recognized domestic partnership. Unfortunately, in these situations, your loved one is not entitled to any of your property. You can avoid this result by executing a valid will with an estate planning attorney.
What Happens if You Die and Have No Family?
If you pass without a will and have no living immediate family members, then your assets will go the state. If no immediate family members, the state will likely try to find any distant family (for example, a cousin or grandchild). If the state can find a distant family member, that person would likely inherit your property.
Contact The McWilliams Law Group for Help
The established California and Washington estate planning attorneys at the McWilliams Law Group help you prepare for the future today. Our attorneys can help you determine whether your estate plan requires a living will, a healthcare power of attorney, or another related document.
Note that our firm provides legal assistance with the following:
- Will drafting, execution and review
- Living Trusts
- Advance healthcare directives (living Wills)
- Powers of attorney
- Estate and gift tax issues
- Guardianships and conservatorships
- Choosing the appropriate executor and/or trustee
The skilled attorneys at our firm can help thoroughly analyze your estate and strategize the best means of transferring your assets, minimizing taxes, establishing guardianship, and supporting philanthropic causes. Contact us now and let us help protect your personal security, family, and legacy.