Four Potential Outcomes if You Die Without a Will

Your will is your last chance to say your proper goodbyes to your family members and friends. It can determine everything from who will gain access to your jewelry collection to who will be responsible for your children so it is important to draft your will before you die to avoid legal and financial implications. 

Below, the estate planning attorneys at Lauenstein Law Firm discuss what a will is, when you should begin drafting a will, and the consequences of dying without one. 

What is a Will?

A will is a legal statement of your last wishes to be carried out after you pass. It must contain a list of beneficiaries whom you wish to gain access to your assets and estate after following your death. This can include assets such as your house, investment accounts, cars, or a jewelry collection. A will can also appoint guardians for your children or pets and determine how finances will be handled. 

It is important to draft a will before you die so that your final wishes are followed. Without a will, your estate and assets will be distributed according to state laws through a process known as intestacy, which can lead to unintended consequences. 

What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

When someone dies without a will or a trust it is referred to as dying intestate. What happens after the person dies without a will is known as intestate succession. Each state has different laws that outline who will receive the deceased person’s property when there is no will. 

Here are four things that can happen when you die without a will:

  • The State decides who receives your real  and personal property

  • The State decides who gets your money

  • The State decides who becomes the guardian for any minor children

  • Your local probate court executes the state laws instead of your last wishes

A successful will officially decides who receives your assets and the guardian of any minor children. However, when you die without a will, your assets are divided according to the laws of the state of residence before your death. Under Maryland intestacy laws, your property and assets are generally distributed to the deceased’s surviving spouse and children. However, the division of your assets between the surviving spouse and children depends on whether the children are minors or adults and; whether they are children of the decedent and the surviving spouse or just of the decedent.

If the deceased does not have a spouse or children, assets are usually distributed among parents, siblings, or other relatives, according to state law. It is important to draft a will before you pass so that you get the final say in who will inherit your property and assets. Without a will, the state determines how assets are distributed and they may choose to distribute your inheritance differently than you would like. 

The State of Maryland made major changes to its intestacy laws for decedents dying after October 1, 2023.  You may have known the prior Maryland law and liked what the State of Maryland would do with your assets. However, those laws have changed as of October 1, 2023 and you may not like what the new State of Maryland laws dictate if you don’t have a will.

When Should I Begin Drafting My Will?

Nobody wants to think about their own death or imagine what will happen after it. However, it is important to think about who will gain access to your assets and estate after your passing. There is no right answer on when you should begin drafting your will, but there are certain life events that provide good reason to begin writing your will. 

Once you turn 18, this is your first chance to write a legally valid will. Though most people are still in high school when they are 18 and may not own many assets, it may be a good idea to begin thinking about what you would want to happen to your assets after you pass. 

Another good time to begin drafting your will is after you gain access to larger assets, such as purchasing a new car or home. Since your will is a legal document that essentially determines where your assets will go, once you start acquiring assets it is important to think about what you might do with them in the future. 

Finally, another great time to begin drafting your will is once you have children. While an intestate situation may result in your children receiving a portion of your estate or nothing. A will guarantees that they receive the exact portion you intend. 

Contact Douglas Lauenstein To Begin Drafting Your Will Today

Our team of trusted experts work with you to design a will that ensures your wishes are met. Douglas C. Lauenstein, a Baltimore County attorney with years of experience, is here to help you. To learn more about our services and the estate planning process, contact us at 410.256.0311 to get in touch with an estate planning lawyer today.