Life can change in the blink of an eye, and not always for the better. As frightening as this can be, it can be much less upsetting when you have taken the time to prepare for the worst. By taking steps like creating a will, you can be confident that your wishes will be fulfilled and your loved ones will be cared for.
Unfortunately, too many people put off creating an estate plan because of a misapprehension that estate plans are only for the elderly or the wealthy, or because of an apprehension about death in general. Under these circumstances, a person can die intestate, which only complicates life for those they leave behind.
What does intestate mean?
A person who dies intestate is a person who dies without a will. Every state has different laws – called intestacy laws – that dictate how to distribute property when there is no will.
In Minnesota, for instance, intestacy laws distribute property in a specific order. The order depends on who the decedent’s family is. Very broadly, distribution prioritizes spouses and children, who may receive the entire estate or a portion of it, then parents and siblings (including half siblings), then nieces and nephews (including half-nieces and nephews). In short, intestacy laws can create scenarios where far-flung family members receive a surprise inheritance from a virtual stranger.
If there are no relatives, then property transfers to the state.
Having a will to avoid dying intestate can be wise for many reasons. It can ensure desired parties inherit property; it can eliminate or minimize confusion during the distribution process; it can prevent property from going to estranged parties; it allows you to make specific decisions that could minimize financial penalties.
Creating a will is not something people should be afraid of or assume is unimportant. Instead, it can be helpful to think of it as creating an emergency plan that’s there if and only when you need it.
You should also consider that having a will in place does not just give you peace of mind. It can also allow your loved ones to feel more at ease, knowing you have created a map to help them to navigate a complicated process.