What Happens if You Die Without a Will in Massachusetts?
Few individuals enjoy thinking about their own passing. And, as such, many people choose to avoid consulting an attorney to create various estate planning documents that will manage their estate when they die.
To some, doing so may seem like the easiest option that requires the least hassle during life. In reality, though, passing on without a will may cause your estate to be divided and portioned out according to Massachusetts law, and not pursuant to your wishes.
Are you still unsure of whether or not crafting a will is necessary for you? Consider the following information to understand the importance of leaving your family with a comprehensive estate plan.
The Laws of Intestacy
To begin, passing on without a will is known as “dying intestate,” and, as such, is governed by Massachusetts' intestacy laws. (Conversely, passing away with a will is known as “dying testate.”) Intestacy laws in Massachusetts determine to whom the deceased's assets will pass upon death. For example, in the event the deceased leaves children but no spouse, the children inherit everything; or, if there is a spouse, along with descendants, the spouse inherits one-half of the estate, while the descendants collectively inherit the rest.
Types of property regulated by intestacy laws include savings accounts and property owned individually, as well as others without a clear beneficiary. Examples of assets that are not governed through intestacy include property in living trusts, payable-on-death bank accounts, and others with named beneficiaries.
The Importance of a Will Upon Death
Of course, here, many may be wondering the significance of drafting a will. If, upon death, the state portions out your assets to your spouse, children, and living relatives, why would you need to craft an estate plan in addition?
Consider, for example, a case in which you want specific items to go to individual people. You may wish to leave your cash assets to your children, your home to your spouse, and other property to siblings. Without a will in place, this process would be impossible.
The situation becomes further complicated for an individual who has both children and stepchildren who have not been legally adopted. Massachusetts law provides that the biological children will inherit upon death, yet the stepchildren will not. The same goes for foster children, as well.
In rare cases, an individual will pass without any living relatives. In this situation, the state of Massachusetts would escheat, or transfer, the property to the ownership of the state.
Avoiding Conflict During the Probate Process
Finally, one of the best reasons to leave your family with a will upon death is to help prevent conflict among family. Without a will in place, family members may begin to quarrel among one another, claiming that your true intentions were to leave them with a greater share than the estate deeded to them under intestacy laws. Sadly, conflicts over estates have been known to tear apart entire families who cannot agree upon a fair determination.
If a will is in place, however, it will be passed through the probate process, during which the estate planning document will be examined and the estate will be dispersed accordingly. Having a solid record of your wishes upon death can often eliminate the prospect of a family feud.
Talk to a Legal Professional
There is truly no reason to avoid crafting a will to help your family upon your passing. And if you have questions about how to create a will or other estate planning documents, don't hesitate to reach out to a skilled Massachusetts estate planning attorney today. An attorney can advise you on the best course of action for your situation and help you protect your assets both now and in the future.