Tuesday Legal Tip: What Happens When You Don’t Have a Will?


Recently, our Tuesday Legal Tip posts discussed the probate process and how to name beneficiaries in your will. I promised you a post on what happens if you don’t have a will…so here it is!

When someone dies without a valid will, they are said to have died “intestate” and the deceased person’s state laws determine how their property will be distributed. Thus, your state’s laws will decide the specifics of who gets your stuff. If, like me, you grimace at the thought of yet more government interference in your life, this may be an uncomfortable thought.

Notice I didn’t say everything they own goes to the state, just that state law determines where it goes. Many of my clients believed the state took everything if they didn’t have a will, but that isn’t true. I don’t know of any state that takes a decedent’s property — at least, not if there is close family left.

In Kansas, this means that the surviving spouse of a deceased person inherits all the assets of the deceased person unless the deceased person had children from a previous relationship. If he has children from a previous relationship, the surviving spouse only inherits half and the children inherit half. For example, my hubby and I have one child together (and no other children), so when one of us dies, the other will inherit even if we don’t have a will. (But we do have a will for other reasons!)

If the deceased person didn’t have a surviving spouse, his entire estate goes to his children in equal shares. If he has no surviving spouse or children, the estate is split between his surviving parents. This same method of distribution bounces up and down the family tree a bit until some surviving relatives are found, and they will inherit.

By the way, I don’t know any lawyers who would recommend using this intestate succession method as your plan, especially if you have kids, significant assets or any kind of complicated family matters. if you’re interested in getting a will, I recommend calling your favorite attorney or looking at Legal Zoom or another online legal document provider. It doesn’t have to be difficult and expensive to get a will, so why not look into it?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. See my posting policy here.

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