A will can be a simple or complex document that gives someone an opportunity to provide clear instructions about what needs to happen with their property – among other interests – when they die. Those who draft a will can name their own beneficiaries, as well as guardians to take care of their children.
Some people create very thorough and detailed estate plans that include not just a will but trusts, powers of attorney and advance directives. These robust plans provide clear instructions for what happens if they die or experience some kind of medical emergency.
There are also plenty of adults who do not have any official estate plan in place whatsoever. These adults put themselves and their loved ones at risk of them dying without any control over their property or the care of their dependent family members.
State law passes property to close family members
Those who die without a will have died intestate. Intestate succession laws determine what happens with personal property when someone dies. The closest family members to the deceased individual have the strongest rights under the law.
Spouses often inherit most, if not all, of someone’s property after their death. Children also have inheritance rights. If the surviving spouse is not also a parent of the surviving children, then that may reduce how much of the estate the spouse receives.
In cases where someone dies and has neither children nor a spouse, then state law will pass their property to other family members, such as their parents or grandparents. Especially for those who do not have a good relationship with their parents, and testate succession laws might result in the wrong people inheriting someone’s property when they die unexpectedly.
Estate planning puts the testator in control
The only way for someone to control what happens to their property when they die is to have a plan in place before they pass. Taking the time to create a will gives someone an opportunity to have control over their legacy and to provide support for their loved ones through their estate plan.