What Happens If I Don't Have A Will?
If you die without a will then you are said to have died "intestate", which means the laws of the state determine what happens to your property and possessions. The state determines who inherits based on the set list. It can vary slightly depending on individual situations (or appeals made after the will is read) but it doesn't deviate far from the set order.
We always highly recommend getting a will, that way you chose what happens and you can make sure that everyone important to you has been accounted for. You get to decide how your assets are divided, and make sure that everyone that you care about receives what you deem to be their fair share.
The inheritance order is:
Generally if you don't have a will then your possessions and properties will follow this order of inheritance, moving down the list until someone is eligible to inherit.
Where Problems Can Arise
Allowing the inheritance of your estate to be decided by a ranking system is flawed for a lot of obvious reasons. The main one being that this list does not factor in other people that are in your life, or your personal preference when it comes to who should inherit what you leave behind. No matter who you are you should make sure you have done a will as soon as you have substantial assets to your name (such as when you buy your first home).
However, there are certain situations where not having a will, or not updating you will, can quickly become a fight for those closest to you.
- Not updating your will in the event of divorce.
- A lot of people have their partner as the main (or one of the main) inheritors of their estate. But in the event of divorce or separation you need to make sure your will is updated. If your family disagrees with who has received your inheritance things can be contested, but this is a long and expensive process that nobody wants to do. It becomes especially painful in times of grief, and it can cause rifts between the people involved.
- Not having a will when you are unmarried.
- If you are in a long-term relationship but you aren't married it is very hard for your partner to inherit what you would want them to. Once again, they can start a legal battle to inherit, but it is expensive and difficult. Make sure you have your partner listed in your will.
- If you want step-children to inherit.
- For intestate purposes step-children are not put under the category of children. So, if you want your step-children to inherit then you need to make a will and explicitly state what you wish to leave to them.
- Note: adopted children are treated the same as biological children.
- Family feuds.
- A lot of people wouldn't want a relative to inherit, and the people closest to them are their friends. Legally your friends would not be connected to your will unless you explicitly put them there.
These are just a few examples, but everyone's situation is different and so there could be a myriad of other issues out there.
Play It Safe
If you are in any doubt as to who will inherit after you die the best thing to do is to get your will reviewed (if you have one) or make a will (if you don’t have one). Our Estate Planning Solicitor will review your will for free, and then help you figure out if any changes need to be made.
If you don't yet have a will then take our Estate Planning Questionnaire and get back on track.