What happens when you die without a Will?
When a person dies without a Will, he has died “intestate,” meaning his property passes to his “heirs at law.” A person’s heirs are determined by the intestacy succession laws of the state in which he lives. The current intestacy laws of Massachusetts cover any person with a date of date on or after March 31, 2012. Deaths prior to that date are governed by a slightly different set of succession rules. Generally, the current laws consider a decedent’s closest surviving relatives, including spouse, children, and the descendants of children who have previously passed. The rules can seem complex, but they largely follow a decedent’s lineal line of descendants until that line runs out. It is only when there are no lineal descendants that the property has the potential of passing to surviving parents and siblings. Because each person’s familial makeup is unique and the passing of property can vary, it is best to consult an attorney who is familiar with estate planning or otherwise the intestate laws of your state of domicile. However, the best way to ensure your property passes according to your wishes is through the creation of a Will and other estate planning methods.
It is also important to remember that only probate property passes by intestacy succession laws, or through your Will, if you have one. Probate property includes only the property that is held in your name individually, with no beneficiaries or joint owners. Bank accounts, financial investments, and even real estate can be set up prior to death to name co-owners or beneficiaries, or can be held in a way that dictates the passing of the property upon your death, like through a trust or pay-on-death/transfer-on-death accounts. Again, it is very important to consult an estate planning attorney to be sure your property is passing to your intended beneficiaries in a way that could avoid high costs, unwanted tax consequences or a delay in your heirs or beneficiaries having access to your assets.