Dying Without A Will: Where Does It All Go?

You may be familiar with the idea of a will—a document that divides any money, property, or assets that you may have when you die.

A will is a great idea because it allows you to put in writing the specifics of what you want done with the things you leave behind. But the simple truth is that not everyone has a will made at the time of their death.

Whether the individual never got around to making one or an unexpected accident ends their life before they have the chance, there are plenty of reasons that a person may not have a will when they die. If you've ever wondered what might happen to a person's assets if they die without a will, you're not alone—and there are plenty of things that may happen:

Your State Law Chooses Through Intestate Succession

Intestate succession (also known as "intestacy") is the most common series of events that may occur in the case of a death without a will. While each state has different laws regarding the specifics of intestacy, one common thread amongst all states is this: the property is divided according to your closest relatives. Depending on the age and what is applicable, those relatives could include parents, a spouse, siblings, or other extended family members.

Additionally, any life insurance policies the deceased may have had will still go directly to the person noted on the policy—life insurance as well as living trust property are unaffected by the absence of a will.

The State Inherits Everything

In some cases, an individual may die without any spouse or close living relatives. In this situation, intestate succession will not work simply because there is no one to give the property to in the first place. While it's rare that someone will die without any living relatives at all, it does happen—and when it does, the state gets everything.

This is known as escheat, a medieval term that originated when feudal lords took back land once owned by their tenants. Today, escheat involves not only land and property but money or even physical household items.

Cementing Your Will in Stone

Although a will is often pictured as an important legal document (which it is), think of it this way: if you want your will to be done with your property and money following your death, it's better to be safe than sorry. Sitting down with a family law attorney who can help you to draw up the important papers is worth the time because it can provide you with a peace of mind, knowing that your matters are settled.