What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic causing an uprising of interest in estate plans, there was a survey in 2022 that found that only about 33% of Americans have an established will. An established estate plan does not only save time and money for your loved ones but it also saves them the trouble. Many unwanted events may unfold as a result of dying without a will. It is important to recognize the heavy role of an estate plan for your future. A will is able to let you decide where your property and assets will go after you have passed. Ultimately, writing a will allows you to distribute your belongings as per your wishes as opposed to what the court will decide. So, what happens if you die without a will? 


1.) Your money may not go to the people or charity you had in mind. 

  • It is important to note that each state has different rules when it comes to distributing your estate through probate court. Many states follow the order of: spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, and siblings - respectively in that order. Although this is the common order of inheritance by the court, they are not the ones who are familiar with your family dynamics and relationships. Sometimes people would rather have their money go to a charity instead of the remaining family members they have. If not specified in your will, it is possible that your estate will go to a family member you are estranged with. 

2.) Distribution of assets will not be distributed as you please.

  • Some people find that they may want to leave different portions of their money to different loved ones. For example, you may want to leave your children different amounts due to some strained differences that may have occurred. However, without a will, your estate is usually split evenly between your children if your spouse has passed as well. With a will, you are able to split your assets unevenly between loved ones with your wishes in mind. 

3.) Guardianship of children may go to someone who is not the best candidate. 

  • In addition, if you have children who are minors at your time of death, guardianship for these children may also go to an unideal family member. As mentioned previously, the court has no idea what relationships you may have in your family. In the case where your spouse is also deceased, guardianship of children will be decided by the court based on who is the “best fit”. Oftentimes, family members will volunteer to become guardians for these children but it cannot be guaranteed. 

4.) Different marital status can have different outcomes when dying without a will.

  • If single, your estate will first be given to your children but if there are no children in the picture, money will go to your parents (if still alive). Otherwise, it will be split between your siblings. In the case where you have none of the previously mentioned family members, assets will be split between the remaining family from both sides of your parents’ family. 
  • If married in New York, the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate if there is no will written. If there is no surviving spouse, the estate goes to the children. The process of dying without a will as a married person is similar to someone who is single- the only difference is that the surviving spouse is first in line for your inheritance. The process goes down the closest family relation regardless of your familial dynamic with them. 

To summarize, drafting up an estate plan is extremely important especially if you do not want your assets to wind up in the wrong hands. In order to ensure that your money, property and guardianship will go to your loved ones after death, get started today. Contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2394 for more information on how to start an estate plan.