What Happens When You Die Without a Will?

by Junior Boomer on January 4, 2011

This is one of the most common questions asked around the idea of wills. I’ve heard numbers all over the board. Some saying that 1 in 4 people currently don’t have a will. I’ve also heard 1 in 3, and recently heard a statistic that 300,000 people die without a will every year in Britain.

What Happens When You Die Without a Will?
Creative Commons License photo credit: iowa_spirit_walker

Now, I can’t vouch for the truth of these stats, but what I’m sure is true is this – more people die without a will each year than really should. Given the relative ease of creating a will, and new ways (like low-cost online services) that make it less expensive, creating a will has never been easier. This is one of those financial things that, with a little education, most people could exercise control over.

So What Really Happens if You Pass Away Without a Will?

There’s no one answer, but there are some commonalities. Between different states, there are different rules, although many stick to a loose sense of how money should be distributed. Additionally, your marital status, and whether you have children or not (also how many children you have) affect where your belongings go.

If you’re married and have children, often the money is split up into half between your spouse and children. Often the spouse will get one third to one half of the total sum, and the rest is split among the children. This is usually done regardless of the age of the children. So if you have a child who is 15 and another who is 30, they’re probably going to end up with the same amount.

If you’re married but you don’t have children, your spouse gets about the same amount as if you did have children (one third to one half). The difference is that the remainder often goes to the parents of the deceased. If the deceased has no remaining parents, the siblings of the deceased share the money equally among them. It’s interesting to note that even half siblings receive a share, no different than siblings that come from the same set of parents.

If you’re single but have children, the law tends to be very clear. The entirety of the sum often goes to the children, who split it evenly. Usually there’s no provision for the other parent of the deceased’s children. This is one of the more frustrating aspects of the law for people who have been in long term relationships, yet remain unmarried. No matter whether they have had children or not, the state almost always regards them as single entities.

If you’re single and have no children, your possessions usually go to your parents. If they are deceased, property is typically split evenly among any siblings you have. The same rule of half-siblings being treated the same as full siblings tends to apply.

What About Other Circumstances

Family circumstances can be extremely complex, and the explanations above are not meant to cover every person in every state (or country). There are frequently extenuating circumstances that make each probate case a little more finicky.
For cases outside the above stated circumstances, there are clauses that suggest money should go to grandparents, aunts and uncles, children of a deceased spouse, relatives of a deceased spouse, and finally to the state you were considered a legal resident of.

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