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Q&A: What happens if a person dies without a last will?

Danielle Seurkamp
by Danielle Seurkamp, NAPFA (@dseurkampcfp)

If you die without a will, your probate estate will pass by your state’s laws of intestacy. Each state’s rules are a little different, but typically your assets would pass to your spouse, children or closest relatives. If no relatives can be located, the assets would go to the state.

Keep in mind, you can use will substitutes in many cases to pass your assets to their intended recipient without a will. Titling assets jointly with rights of survivorship allows the co-owner to automatically inherit the asset after your death. Likewise, you can use beneficiary designations on bank and investment accounts, life insurance policies and even your home in some states. Titling and beneficiary designations will hold up whether you have a will or not.

READ: Is a will typed into my computer considered legal?

Even if all your assets pass by beneficiary designation, it still is a good idea to have a will, especially if you have kids. If you don’t leave instructions for who should be the guardian of your children, the state is left to determine that without your input.


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Danielle Seurkamp works as a certified financial planner for Foster & Motley. Seurkamp is a member of the National Association of Personal Finance Advisors (NAPFA), a fee-only professional association and a Dimespring knowledge partner.