You may not know it, but, you have a default will. It’s called the State’s “Intestate law” or “Law of descent and distribution,” and it was likely drafted by the lawmakers in the state where you live. If you die without a valid will (“intestate”), the State’s laws go into effect.
Why you need to create a will:
Children: If you have minor children, the State’s Probate Court Judge will choose their guardians. The judge will have no guidance from you, and may choose the wrong person to care for your children. Writing a will as soon as you are expecting a child is critical for this reason.
Lengthy Probate: When you die without a will, your estate is processed by your State’s Probate or Surrogate Court. The Probate court will appoint an administrator, most likely a family member or friend. Regardless of your level of wealth, someone has to settle your estate. This means they are responsible for using any assets to pay your final bills, close your accounts, negotiate with creditors, file a final tax return, sell your house and settle your estate.
The average time to settle an estate in New York State is around two years! It’s similar in other states. You may be six feet under, but the person who is left to take care of your mess is probably not all that happy with you!
Save your family and friends a lot of time and stress by creating a will and establishing your desires and preferences ahead of time.
Your Assets, Your Choice: By drafting a will, you also get the opportunity to make sure your loved ones are taken care of as you intended to, instead of letting a Judge who knows nothing about you or your family make decisions on your behalf.
And, finally, you are helping close the State’s Budget Gap: If you die without a will, and no one claims your assets, your money or insurance payouts will eventually end up in the State’s coffers, closing the State’s budget gaps! These funds are called “Unclaimed”. You can read more about it here.
Intestate Succession Laws
The Intestate Laws (i.e. your default will) differ from state to state.
In most states, if you were married with kids, your surviving spouse and children will inherit your assets. In some states, if you don’t have children, your spouse—or even your parents—will inherit your assets, possibly leaving your spouse to fend for him or herself.
Here are two examples of Intestate succession laws from New York and North Carolina:
New York State’s Intestate Succession Laws
North Carolina’s Intestate Succession Laws (from Nolo.com)
The legal version can be found here: http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/statutes/StatutesTOC.pl?Chapter=0029
As you can see, the intestate laws vary greatly from state to state, and you should draft a will at the very minimum so you know that your assets are distributed the way you would like after your death, and to avoid causing further pain to your family!
For other states: Search Nolo.com for Intestacy Laws for “Your State” or Google Intestacy Laws for “Your State”.