What happens if you die without a will?

Planning for your mortality is an unpleasant business. So unpleasant, in fact, that a majority of people will avoid estate planning in general. A 2017 survey revealed that only four out of ten adults have a will in place and that the most common reason for not having one was because they “hadn’t gotten around to it.” But what happens to your finances and belongings if you never do get around to a will?

Understanding intestate

A last will and testament is a legal document that lets you determine who your assets will go to, when and how they go to them, and who gets to carry out these last wishes after your demise. However, if you should pass away without a will, the law considers it “dying intestate.” Intestate means that California state laws determine who will inherit your assets and how much they will receive.

Dying intestate doesn’t necessarily mean your loved ones won’t get anything. In most cases, if you are survived by a spouse or children, the state will divide your assets amongst them. If you don’t have a spouse or children, usually your parents, siblings or the next living relative will inherit your estate. If there are no living relatives, all assets are turned over to the state.

Surviving family members will likely need to attend probate court – a segment of the judicial system that handles a deceased person’s assets and debts. Without a will, your family and friends could be subject to a long probate process in which they must fight for what they’re entitled to if they disagree with the state.

The consequences of not having a will

Along with the potential for loved ones to face an ugly and lengthy process in probate court, there are numerous other unintended consequences for not making your last wishes known for your estate:

  • The state will appoint a guardian for any minor children.
  • Friends, charities and stepchildren will likely not inherit anything.
  • Your family could miss out on estate tax exemptions.
  • Pets may not receive the care you intended for them.
  • You may not get the funeral you want.

Plan for your end of life now

No one wants to think about the end of their life. But thinking about what happens to your loved ones and assets if you don’t have your affairs in order could be far grimmer. Save your loved ones from the turmoil of probate down the road and rest easier by preparing your estate plan today.