If you die without a will, what happens to your assets will be determined by the state you reside in. Every state has intestacy laws in place that parcel out property and assets to a deceased person’s closest relatives when there’s no will or trust. But these laws vary from state-to-state.
In the meantime, here is a general (not state specific) breakdown of what can happen to a person’s assets, depending on whom they leave behind.
Married with children: When a married person with children dies without a will, all property, investments and financial accounts that are “jointly owned” automatically goes to the surviving co-owner (typically the spouse or child), without going through probate, which is the legal process that distributes a deceased person’s assets.
But for all other separately owned property or individual financial accounts, the laws of most states award one-third to one-half to the surviving spouse, while the rest goes to the children.
Married with no children or grandchildren: Some states award the entire estate to the surviving spouse or everything up to a certain amount (for example the first $100,000). But many other states award only one-third to one-half of the decedent’s separately owned assets to the surviving spouse, with the remainder generally going to the deceased person’s parents, or if the parents are dead, to brothers and sisters.
Jointly owned property, investments, financial accounts, or community property automatically goes to the surviving co-owner.
Single with children: All state laws provide that the entire estate goes to the children, in equal shares. If an adult child of the decedent has died, then that child’s children (the decedent’s grandchildren) split their parent’s share.
Single with no children or grandchildren: In this situation, most state laws favor the deceased person’s parents. If both parents are deceased, many states divide the property among the brothers and sisters, or if they are not living, their children (your nieces and nephews). If there are none of them, it goes to the next of kin, and if there is no living family, the state takes it.
Make a Will
To ensure your assets go to those you want to receive them, you need to create a will. If you have a simple estate, a complicated financial situation, blended family or have considerable assets, you should first talk to an attorney. An experienced attorney can make sure you cover all your bases, which can help avoid family confusion and squabbles after you’re gone.
Located in Merion Station, PA, Sallen Law assists clients with estate planning matters throughout the Philadelphia Main Line area including but not limited to Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware County, and Chester County. Attorney Sallen is also licensed to practice in the state of NJ and serves Burlington County, Gloucester County, Camden County.