The consequences of dying without a will may vary from state to state. Dying without a will leaves your family without the guidance to distribute your personal properties and assets. The homes, cars, accounts and other assets you own are collectively known as your intestate. If you are wondering, “What happens if you die without a will?” ultimately, your state will determine how your personal property and assets should be distributed and to which family members they should go. Intestacy laws will also take into consideration not only who you have to inherit your belongings, but also what you left behind, such as whether the property you owned is legally considered separate property or community (sometimes called joint) property.
What Happens if You Die Without a Will?
Dying without a will can have different consequences depending on where you live. Most states will use special laws, called intestacy laws, to determine how to divide and distribute your belongings based on what you left behind. The most important thing a court will take into consideration is whether the property was solely yours of it, you owned it with someone else. Whom it goes to if there is no will to dictate this, will depend on what family you have.
For more information on what happens if you die without a will, see our guide here.
What happens to separate property?
Dying without a will if you own property that is legally considered separate property means that those property or assets you have when you die pass down to your next living relative. For legal purposes, separate property has multiple definitions, but ultimately refers to property that only your or your spouse owned individually in your relationship.
What happens when you die without will is that your state’s hierarchy for how your personal effects are passed down to your family members becomes the only way to distribute your remaining estate. For example, when it comes to separate property, your children may be at the top of the list, rather than your spouse. If you do not have any children and you do not have a last will and testament, your belongings may pass to any siblings you have. If you have more than one, any items they receive will be split as evenly as possible between them. Without a will addressing debts and assets, family members may have to visit probate court to settle disputes concerning your debts and estate. Without a will, if you do not have any siblings, then your belongings pass to your parents, then to your spouse, then to the nearest relative, and finally, if you have no legitimate, eligible or available family members to inherit your property and assets after your death, your estate will become the property of the state in which you live. Note: When you do not have a will for your estate, the state you live in will determine how your affairs are distributed. Each state has a different hierarchy of inheritance.
What happens to community property?
Dying without a will, while owning community property, may result in a different hierarchy of your belongings. For example, in Louisiana, if you have community property, the consequences of dying without a will include your children automatically having access to this property after your passing, even if you would want the property to be inherited by your spouse. If you do not have children, the property will pass to your spouse. If you do not have a spouse, then the community property is treated as separate property and will follow the laws of hierarchy for property owned by a single individual. However, regardless of the state in which you live, dying without a will means the person you jointly owned it with will usually inherit that community property. If for some reason they are not eligible to inherit the property, it will pass to the next available person.
What happens to family members?
Dying without a will means that most, if not all, states will only distribute your assets and property to your surviving family members. What constitutes a member of your family tends to vary from state to state, but typically, it will include your spouse, if you have one, any children you may have had and your parents. Some states may even allow grandparents to inherit from your estate after your death. However, dying without a will means that a grandparent will most likely not inherit any of your belongings if there are other family members, such as a spouse or children, to inherit your belongings instead. Learn how to appoint an estate attorney to avoid lengthy legal proceedings concerning your assets after you pass away.
One of the consequences of dying without a will means that any stepchildren you may have will not inherit anything unless you have legally adopted them. If you did not write a will, most states do not recognize step-children or step-parents as heirs to anything in a deceased relatives estate. Nor do most states recognize anyone who acted as a surrogate, such as a foster parent or a grandparent raising their grandchildren as potential beneficiaries of an estate.
Begin to prepare for your passing and avoid dying without a will by downloading our comprehensive guide.
Learn About Usufruct Laws
Depending on what state you live in, dying without a will may invoke usufruct laws. However, usufruct laws are most commonly used in Louisiana courts than they are in any other state. These laws could affect who inherits property and who can use the property and benefit from it. Usufruct is the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another person’s property without causing any harm or destruction to it. There are many ways dying without a will could create an usufruct arrangement. For instance, if you die without a will, and have no document to indicate who should inherit what, your surviving spouse or partner could have legal control over any community property the two of you owned together, even though your state’s intestacy laws dictated that your children inherit the property. Avoid this scenario by taking the time to gain the information you need to plan your estate