Death is an uncomfortable subject for most people, though it seems to be the topic of conversation in our blog reel lately! That’s because, as Estate Planning & Probate attorneys, we know that one of the smartest decisions you can make as a living, breathing human being is to create a plan for your assets after you pass away. For the purpose of this blog, we’re talking specifically about making a Last Will and Testament. You’ve heard about them! You’ve read our blogs about them! But what happens if you don’t get one (even after we’ve droned on and on about them…)?
Not creating a Will doesn’t necessarily mean your mint condition Star Wars figurines will lie in rot in your house forever, or that the State will hack them on eBay, one lightsaber at a time. But it does mean, in the eyes of the State, that you have chosen the laws of intestacy to direct the distribution of your estate. Read on to find out what exactly it means to be intestate (sounds awful, doesn’t it?) and how your assets may be handled in the event that you have no official Will at the time of your death.
Who’s this ‘Will’ you speak of?
No, not Will Smith. Or Will Ferrell. A Last Will and Testament. These handy little documents outline your wishes regarding the distribution of your personal finances and Star Wars figurines important assets after your passing. A Will can also stipulate who should assume care of any minor children you may have at the time of your death and names a Personal Representative (PR) to carry out the probate process. In order for a Will to be official, it must be written, properly witnessed, and filed with the Register of Wills. More on that in another blog…
Say I decide not to get one…
If a Maryland resident dies without a Last Will and Testament, then his or her assets will be distributed to the closest living relatives of the decedent, as outlined by the intestacy succession laws of Maryland. Here’s a rough idea of what that might look like, given a couple different scenarios:
- If you die with children, but no spouse: your children inherit everything
- If you die with a spouse, but no descendants or living parents: your spouse inherits everything
- If you die with a spouse and minor children: your spouse gets half; your children split the other half
There are a plethora of scenarios that dictate exactly how intestacy succession laws will play out. If you would like full details, you can check out the Estates & Trusts Chapter of the Maryland Code.
What exactly passes through Intestate Succession?
Only assets that would have passed directly through your Will are affected by intestate succession. Generally, this relates only to items that you own alone, in your name (like your Star Wars collection…) Some example of items that wouldn’t go through your Will and, thereby, intestate succession include:
- Life insurance proceeds
- Retirement funds
- Property you own with someone else in joint-tenancy
Instead of being subject to intestate succession laws, these items will instead pass directly to the surviving co-owner, or the beneficiary named on the account, whether or not you have a Will.
Will the State get my Jedis?
We won’t lie: it’s a very remote possibility. In the event that you die without a Will (still considering it after getting this far?) and you don’t have any living family to inherit your assets, your property will escheat into the state’s coffers.
It will what?!
Escheat. This means that your assets will transfer to the State in the event that you 1.) have no Will; 2.) have no living heirs to take your stuff.
As we said, this is a very remote possibility. The state actually works very hard to find someone who is even vaguely related to you in an effort to keep your assets in the family, as it were. If you die without a Will and without any heirs, your estate will be paid to either the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or the Department of Education (kind of like a donation).
Okay, maybe I’ll get one of these ‘Will’ thingies.
Great! We’re thrilled you came around. If there is anything at all we can help you with along the way, the Estate Planning & Probate attorneys at Ferrante and Dill, LLC would be happy to help. Give Ferrante and Dill, LLC partner Jennifer Dill a call today at (410) 535-6100 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. She can help you determine the steps necessary to ensure appropriate distribution of your assets after you are gone.