Estate Planning 101: “What Happens If I Don’t Leave a Will?”

Roman Blum’s death last year in New York left everyone in a quandary. The Holocaust survivor was a widower, had no children, and left an estate worth almost $40 million. Investigators are searching for relatives in Poland. If no one is found, the money will probably go to New York’s office of unclaimed funds, which has accumulated $12 billion since 1943.

Exactly what will happen to your estate if you die without a will depends on the specific circumstances. Usually, if you don’t leave a will and you’re married, your spouse and children will inherit. If you don’t have a spouse or children, your parents inherit. If your parents are no longer alive the estate goes to siblings, then to nieces and nephews. If a single person with children dies, the estate is ordinarily split between the children.

If you are married and die without a will there are many different potential scenarios. If you have no children, the spouse will often inherit everything, but in certain cases the estate is split between the spouse and the parents.

If you have children but no partner, the court will decide who will take care of the children. The judge will gather information about the children and their circumstances and try to make a good decision for them.

As you can see, there are laws in place which will determine what happens with your estate in the event that you don’t leave a will. But do you really want to leave these important decisions up to the legal system? Creating a will ensures that your wishes will be carried out, and that your hard-earned assets will be allocated as you wanted them to be.

Can you write your own will? It’s possible, but not recommended in most circumstances. If there’s likely to be an estate tax, a lawyer should definitely be consulted. Business owners and parents of children with special needs also should seek expert help when preparing a will. If there’s anything tricky about your financial situation—you fear the will may be contested, for instance—good legal advice is critical. There’s nothing worse than having family members fighting over your children and your children’s money which is a possibility when no properly prepared and executed will is left with your instructions.

A properly created will can prevent a lot of problems down the road – but the lack of a will can lead to chaos. For instance, a handful of wills and many supposed relatives have emerged in the Roland Blum case we discussed at the start of this blog entry. “I have 400 emails from all over the world,” says the New York administrator handling the estate. “Somebody’s lying. He can’t have 40 daughters and 25 sons.”

Don’t leave important decisions regarding your estate and your assets in the hands of the court. Contact us today if you’d like to discuss this subject further!

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