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Financial Answer Center

What Happens After You Die

When You Don't Have a Will

We already discussed that the courts will choose guardians for your minor children, and select attorneys and accountants to serve as administrators for your estate when you don't have a will. There are also rules that each state follows on who gets your assets when there is no valid will. These rules are called the "laws of intestacy." Generally, your spouse will get your probate estate outright or share it with your children.

Sample Intestacy Rules

Although each state is different, a person might have his or her estate divided in the following order without a valid will:

  1. Spouse and surviving children
  2. Surviving grandchildren
  3. Parents
  4. Siblings
  5. Grandparents
  6. Aunts or uncles
  7. Cousins
  8. The State where the property is located (it is treated as abandoned property)

The rules are different for every state so make sure you check with your attorney to get the specifics.

Nightmares Without a Proper Will

A will is an important document. Without a will, look at what could happen in the following situations:


What Happens without a Will
You have a husband and a young child. The State may force a percentage (probably half) to go to your young child and the balance to your husband. This means your husband may not have the money he needs because half the estate is tied up in restricted accounts for your child. This also means that, as soon as your child reaches the age of majority (18–21, depending on your state), he or she gets the money with no strings attached.
You do not want any of your money to go to your son—only your wife and brother. The State will probably split your estate between your son and your wife, effectively cutting out your brother.
When you die, you promise the house to your daughter for all her devotion, care, and financial support. Your son ignored you for many years. The State will probably split the estate between your daughter and your son. Your daughter may never recoup the support costs she incurred on your behalf.
You do not want your assets going to your adult children but to your place of worship. The State will assign assets to family members first.
Both you and your spouse are in an accident. You die at the scene of the accident; your spouse dies the next day. Your estate will go to the family of your spouse if you have no children. Your family gets nothing.
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