What happens if I don't have a will when I die?
July 14th, 2020
The state that you live in has a set of laws called intestacy laws that say who gets your property if you die without a will. For the most part, these differ a little bit state by state. But for the most part, your property would go to your spouse if you're married and to your kids, if you have them. If you don't, it wold go to your parents, then to your siblings in various combinations depending on whether you have community property in a state like California, or whether your property is separate. Most states do not have community property laws, so it depends a little bit on where you live.
It's basically like a will that the state writes for you and it may not reflect what you want. For example, if you're unmarried, your partner gets nothing. Another example is Prince, who died without a will. He was charity-inclined during his lifetime, but because he never put his wishes in writing charities won't benefit at all from his estate. And that's a shame.
If you're a parent, and you don't write down who should be the guardian of your kids, if you die before they turn 18, then a judge has to make that decision. When I give talks to parents, I always say, this is one of those decisions where it's not that it doesn't get made if you don't make it. What happens is you lose all control over the decision if you don't make it.
If both parents die unexpectedly, and there are minor children, somebody has to be appointed to raise those kids. And that's a judicial proceeding. It's a little bit like an adoption. The judge is supposed to make a decision in the best interest of the child and somebody would have to come forward and ask to be appointed. But, the judge doesn't know your mother in law. The judge doesn't know your brother's wife. You're in the best position to make a choice. It often is an imperfect choice, but still, making it gives you a lot more power than not making it.