What Happens if You Don't Have a Will

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As you get older, creating a will becomes increasingly important. A will provides detailed instructions for how you want your assets to be divided when you pass away. However, data shows that less than half of Americans have a will, which can be problematic. Here's what happens if you pass away without a will.

What is a will?

A will is a legal document that explains how you want your assets, such as real estate, money, and personal belongings, to be distributed after you pass away. Having a will makes it easier to divide your assets since there's no question about who will receive what.

When you create a will, you need to appoint a personal representative (usually a loved one or lawyer) to execute the will. The representative ensures that your assets go to the right people or organizations under the terms of your will.

What happens if you die without a will?

Dying without a will is called dying intestate. What happens when you pass away without a will depends largely on your state's intestate laws. 

In most cases, a probate court will appoint a personal representative from your family to divide your assets. Until the representative is selected, your assets will be frozen, preventing bad actors from stepping in and claiming ownership of your personal and financial assets.

If you don't have any living family members, or if no family members agree to execute your estate, the probate court will assign a third-party individual to take the job. That person will distribute your assets based on the intestate laws in your home state.

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Here's how your familial situation can impact how your assets are divided when you pass away without a will:

If you have kids

If you have kids and pass away without a will, your spouse will likely take over as a legal guardian. However, if you're single when you pass away, the probate court will appoint a legal guardian for your kids if they're underage. Remember that the court may not select the person you'd ideally want to care for your children. So, even while you're young and healthy, having a will that clearly defines your preferred legal guardians for your children is important.

If you’re married

In most cases, if you pass away without a will and you're married, your surviving spouse will take ownership of your assets. However, this is only the case with jointly owned property. For example, if you own a collection of heirloom jewelry, and you passed away without a will, the pieces may get divided among your spouse, children, and siblings. But to reiterate, intestate laws vary between states, so it's possible that your spouse could inherit everything you owned.

If you’re single and don't have children

If you pass away without a will while you're single or unmarried, your assets will probably go to your parents if they're still living. If your parents are no longer alive, the probate court would most likely divide your assets among your siblings, if you have any. If your parents had passed away and you were an only child, your estate could go to the state you lived in.

Do I need a will if I have no assets?

When it comes to creating a will and an estate plan, a common question many people have is whether they need a will if they have no assets. The answer is, yes, having a will is always beneficial, regardless of the number of assets in your possession—both financial and physical.

Ultimately, most people own at least some assets. You may not have a house, a car, or a sizable investment portfolio, but there are other things that your family members could inherit. This includes money in your savings account, the furniture in your apartment, and the clothes in your closet. 

Therefore, having a will is a good idea, even if you don't think any of your assets are valuable enough to pass down. Not to mention, having a will streamlines the process of executing your estate and dividing your assets. When your loved ones are grieving your loss, going through the probate court process can add stress to an already difficult situation. 

Adding life insurance to your estate plan

Making a will is an essential part of end-of-life planning. If you haven't already written a will and created an estate plan, it's never too late to get started. You can use an estate planning checklist to get your documents in order and choose an executor to divide your assets.

As part of your estate plan, you may also consider purchasing a life insurance policy to provide financial support to your loved ones. The money from your insurance policy can also cover end-of-life expenses, like a funeral or final medical bills.

Ethos offers term life policies and whole life policies underwritten by some of the most reputable life insurance companies. When you're ready to apply, you can get a free quote estimate and purchase coverage online without taking a medical exam (simply answer a few health questions).

The information and content provided herein is for informational purposes only, and it is not to be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. You should consult with an attorney or other professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs.

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