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Wouldn’t you prefer to decide where your assets end up rather than have the state make the decisions?

You don’t have an estate plan? If that is the case then there is a pretty good chance you will leave behind family confusion, family infighting and left over hard feelings, according to Zing! in “What Happens If You Die Without a Will? You Might Leave Behind Hurt Feelings, Legal Battles and Chaos“.

Dying without a will means your estate is “intestate,” and the rules of your state will dictate exactly what happens to your assets when you are gone. In most states, your assets will pass to your kids and your spouse. If you don’t have any, your assets are passed on to your nearest living relatives. If your kids are minors, the court will decide who will raise them. A will is also about naming a guardian for your minor children and naming a person who will be in charge of your money to look after them.

When there’s no will, everything is decided by the court.

Having a complete estate plan is like a gift to your survivors. It tells them exactly what you want to have happen to your possessions, who you want to make decisions on your behalf for medical care if you are unable to do so, who you would want to raise your children and even what kind of funeral you want to have.

Here’s an example: let’s say that an adult is financially supporting a parent, even though the adult does not live with their parent. In New York State, if that person dies, their spouse inherits everything. If that person has a spouse and children, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 plus half the balance of the estate. The children inherit everything else.

In this scenario, the parent who was dependent upon the adult child is left on their own and would have to hope that their daughter-in-law (or son-in-law) would be willing to continue to help them. Through basic estate planning, the adult child could have set up a trust or other mechanism to support the dependent parent.

Another concern: if you die without a will, it is more likely that people you don’t know may try to fraudulently make claims on your estate. There may be bitter resentment if one family member steps up to try to take charge of the process. That person will have to apply to the court to be appointed as the estate administrator. When that happens, your assets will be frozen.

If no one wants to become the executor, the court will appoint a public trustee.

What if there’s not enough money to support the family and the family home needs to be sold? That would become a legal and financial nightmare for all concerned.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your family’s specific circumstances.

Reference: Zing! (March 4, 2019) “What Happens If You Die Without a Will? You Might Leave Behind Hurt Feelings, Legal Battles and Chaos

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.