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Here's what happens if you die without a will

Here's what happens if you die without a will
Finance3 min read
Aretha Franklin reportedly didn't leave behind a will.    Mary Altaffer/AP Images

  • What happens if you die without a will?
  • TMZ reported that famed singer Aretha Franklin did not leave a will behind.
  • If you die without a will in the US, the fate of your estate largely varies based on your location and the status of your family.


What happens if you die without a will?

Singer Aretha Franklin reportedly died without leaving behind a will, according to TMZ. The singer's net worth was around $80 million, according to People. Plenty of famous figures like Howard Hughes, Prince, and Pablo Picasso died without wills, Forbes reported.

And a majority of Americans don't currently have a will or a living trust, according to a 2017 Caring.com survey.

Whether or not you're rich and famous, people who die without leaving behind a will are classified as having died "intestate."

What happens to all your stuff and money, at least in the United States, depends on what state you live in. Intestacy laws vary across the United States. Those laws help determine who the government will pick to be your heirs, CNN reported.

Here's what's likely happen to your property if you die without a will:

If you're single without kids

According to the legal website FindLaw, if you're a single, childless individual, your estate will pass on to your parents - or it'll be divided equally among your siblings and half-siblings if your parents are dead.

If you don't have any surviving siblings, nieces, or nephews, the estate will be divided between your paternal and maternal relatives.

If you're single with kids

FindLaw reported that if you're a single parent with children, your estate will typically be divided up equally amongst your kids or, if your children have predeceased you, your grandkids.

If you're married without any kids

According to FindLaw, if you're married and childless, your estate goes to your spouse. One big caveat: most states are common law property states, FindLaw reported. If you leave behind property designated "separate property" - which means that it was an asset acquired before the marriage - that could be split between your spouse, parents, and even your siblings.

If you're married with kids

If all of your children belong to your surviving spouse, your wife or husband will inherit the entirety of your state, according to FindLaw. If you have children from a previous relationship, your estate will be split between them and your surviving spouse.

If you're not married to your partner

If you're not married to your partner and die without leaving behind a will, your partner will likely be left in the lurch when it comes to inheritance.

If you have a domestic partner

Not all states recognize domestic partnerships, according to FindLaw, so whether or not your domestic partner will inherit your estate varies based on your location.

Some property doesn't require a will to pass on

Not all property requires a will to pass on. According to Legal Zoom, life insurance benefits, IRAs, 401Ks, or retirement funds with beneficiaries, most assets "held as payable on death," and assets in a living trust typically pass "without a will and without any intestacy proceedings."

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