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What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

It's hard to plan your final wishes. That's why many Americans put it off. But what exactly happens if you die without a will? Where do your assets go? It all depends on the laws of intestacy in your jurisdiction.

When you die without a will, you die "intestate." That's why a state's intestacy laws exist.

Intestacy laws will pass down your assets to your heirs as the statute mandates. All 50 states in the nation have intestacy laws.

How exactly your assets will be divided will vary depending on your state's laws. But the goal of intestacy statutes is to ensure that assets are distributed the same way an average person would have wanted if they had written a will.

Intestacy statutes apply whenever you don't have a will. This means that they apply even if you told someone of your final wishes. As long as you don't have a will, your estate will pass via intestate succession.

Many states follow the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). In fact, some jurisdictions use the UPC as a basis for their own state-specific laws. However, there are some states that deviate greatly from the UPC.

But generally under the UPC, assets will be divided like this:

  • The surviving spouse, if there is one, will be entitled to the entire estate or a substantial part of the estate. The exact amount will depend on if the deceased had any descendents.
  • Descendents will get the entire estate if there is no spouse.
  • The deceased's parents will take the entire estate if the deceased had no spouse or descendents.
  • Other relatives will be given the estate if the deceased had no spouse, descendents, or surviving parents.

In short, the intestacy laws are in place to ensure that even if you die without a will your assets will be distributed relatively fairly. Though if you want your belongings to be handed down in a certain way, you should consider consulting an attorney to draft a will.

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