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What happens when people die without wills?

Creating an estate plan is something that many people are guilty of putting off. A significant number of these people, including many Massachusetts residents, may believe that they do not need one until they achieve a certain amount of wealth. However, anyone can benefit from creating a will. Family members or other potential beneficiaries of people who die without written wills may find it difficult to receive their rightful inheritance.

Normally, a will would dictate who the beneficiaries are, how assets are to be divided and who is to take over obligations like mortgage payments. For example, when a person dies, his or her will might indicate that his or her home is to be left to a family member to be sold or to live in. If two people jointly own or are joint tenants, then the full ownership of the property will most likely be transferred to the survivor. However, if the property is not jointly owned and the decedent has no will, then the property will be transferred according to state law. 

Bank accounts that are not jointly owned may also present a problem. A potential beneficiary may be able to access the accounts by going to the bank and presenting a death certificate and his or her ID as proof of relation. However, without a will, it is ultimately up to the state's probate laws to determine who is the next of kin and, therefore, who is able to inherit the estate and its assets. 

Creating a will can help beneficiaries not only to know what the deceased's wishes are after his or her death but also help the beneficiaries avoid lengthy and expensive court fees. Massachusetts residents who wish to create new wills could benefit from consulting with an attorney. A lawyer may also be able to help those who have already written a will to alter the document as needed in order to keep it up to date. 

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