What? He died without a Will? What happens to his stuff?

If you die without a Will, you’ll have to consider what you own, who will get it and who oversees the administration of things that you may have left behind.

Here are some basics:

Your Assets: If you own property with a co-owner (investments, a home, a bank account) the surviving co-owner may get the assets automatically.

  • The co-owner must be a “joint owner.” A joint owner takes the whole pot.
  • Alternatively, a “tenant-in-common” is someone not specified as a joint owner and does not receive any assets.
  • If you have a named beneficiary for some assets (IRAs, retirement plans, life insurance), that person will inherit your property.
  • Anything you leave behind that’s in your name alone, well that stuff (including an interest you own as a tenant-in-common) must be given to beneficiaries as spelled out in you state’s law of intestacy.

Intestacy” is a fancy way of saying, “died without a Will.” If that happens, family members closest to you (spouse, kids, parents, siblings and then cousins…) will inherit. Someone close to you will file for “letters of administration,” usually a family member. This appoints a person to take the reins of gathering your assets, paying your debts and distributing assets to heirs.

Who Gets What? If you’re married with children, typically these are the people who get your assets. If you’re not married, it may go to parents or siblings. If you’re an only child with no parents, the law will look to cousins etc. Single people really need wills if they are not fond of their family!

If you want to be sure who gets what, you should have a Will. If you want to be sure who is going to wrap up things for you, name an executor. It’s tough enough for people to lose a loved one. Having a Will makes it easier on them.

Susan G. Parker, Esq.

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