First things first: it is highly advisable for you to have a will in place as a basic part of your estate plan. Dying without a will means there will be no way to enforce or distribute your estate according to your wishes. It can also cause complications and stress for your loved ones as they try to handle your estate issues.
If you die without a will, in the eyes of the law you have died “intestate.” Dying intestate means the laws of intestate succession for your state of residence will determine how your property is distributed upon your death. This includes any bank accounts, securities, real estate, and all other assets you own at the time of death.
Intestate succession is the process that happens after a person dies without a valid will by which the property is passed to heirs according to the applicable state law. The idea is that the intestate succession statutes will distribute the property as closely as possible to how the average person would. This doesn’t mean, however, that the intestate laws will resemble what you actually wanted in any specific case. The other thing to keep in mind is that no exceptions can be made to the intestate laws if there is not a valid will. Even if your wishes are known, intestate will strictly apply if no will exists.
Since in the event of intestate succession there is no will to name an executor, the state intestate statutes will provide a list of people who are eligible to fill the role. If necessary, a probate court judge will choose an executor based on the statutory list. In most states, the surviving spouse is at the top of the list, followed by adult children.
Due to its complicated nature and the variance in state intestate succession laws, intestate is definitely something you want to avoid. If you don’t have a valid will in place when you die, there is no guarantee that your wishes will be followed. In fact, quite the opposite could happen. If you have not yet created a will, carve out some time to seek the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney. You owe it to yourself and your family.