The Dangers of Not Having a Will

If you die without a will, Maryland laws of intestacy dictate the way your estate is inherited. Here, Doug Lauenstein explains Maryland’s rules of intestacy, and how they impact the estates of those without a will.

What are Intestate Laws?

A person who dies, known legally as the decedent, without a will is said to die “intestate.” Intestate law dictates who inherits what property from the estate, starting with those most closely related to the decedent.

Property Impacted by Intestate Laws

Intestate laws impact any property owned in your name that would be accounted for in a will. This is broken down into various types of property: real property, which includes real estate, land and buildings; cash property, which includes money in checking, saving and money market accounts; intangible personal property, such as stocks and bonds; intellectual property, such as royalties and patents and unproductive property, such as cars, furniture, jewelry and other possessions. Any property that already has a surviving beneficiary, such as a life insurance policy, or any property that is joint-owned, cannot be added to a will, as a beneficiary is already named or implied.

The Division of Property

Intestacy laws attempt to bequeath property from a decedent’s estate on those most closely related to the decedent, and will only bequeath property on those further from the decedent if there are no closer relatives. If the decedent has no children, no surviving issue and no surviving parents but has a surviving spouse, the spouse inherits all intestate property; the children or their issue inherit all intestate property  if a surviving spouse does not exist. When a spouse and children under 18 exist, the spouse inherits half of the decedent’s intestate property, and the children inherit the remainder in equal shares. A surviving spouse and children over the age of 18 slightly complicates the previous scenario: the spouse inherits $15,000 as well as half of the rest of the intestate property, and the surviving children inherit the rest. The same scenario applies when a spouse and parents survive, without any descendants, with the parents receiving what the children would if they existed.

If the parents are still alive, but there are no children, descendants, or spouse, the parents receive all of the intestate property—the same applies if there are only siblings left. It is important to note that stepchildren and foster children do not automatically count as children under intestacy law: children must be biologically related, or formally adopted, to count. Also keep in mind, in most cases descendants of a child inherit their parent’s share in an intestate estate.  If there are no blood relatives then step children may come into play.

State-Inherited Property

Property will “escheat to” (be taken by) the state should a decedent have no will or family of any kind remaining. In Maryland, this property is bequeathed to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or the county board of education in the county where the decedent maintained a primary residence.

How Doug Lauenstein Can Help

Without a will, you will have no control over who receives your property, and how it is divided. At Lauenstein Law, we believe everyone deserves to have their wishes for their estate enacted after their passing. With the help of one of our experienced and dedicated attorneys, you can create a robust and all-encompassing estate plan that will ensure your needs are met after you are gone. For more information, contact us today.