Nearly everyone has a general idea about why it would be beneficial to have an estate plan in place – especially once they begin to have children and accrue more wealth and assets. However, it’s not always clear what might happen if someone continues to delay establishing an estate plan and an accident occurs before they are able to execute a valid will.
Passing away without a validly executed will is called “dying intestate” in legal terms. Every state has statutes that establish the process that courts must follow for dealing with the property of people who die intestate.
Massachusetts’ intestacy statutes dispose of the deceased’s wealth in different ways, depending upon which family members that the deceased leaves behind.
If you pass away while married, but you have no surviving children or parents, then your spouse will receive everything you have. Your spouse will also receive everything if your only children are also the children of your spouse.
If you have surviving children from a previous marriage, then they will receive a portion of your estate, and the rest will go to your current spouse. If you have neither children nor a spouse, then your parents and other family members will receive a share.
Why a will is important
Sometimes, the intestacy statute perfectly encapsulates what someone would have wanted for their estate. However, most of the time people prefer to have a bit more control over where their hard-earned wealth goes. Creating a will can help you to prevent some unintended consequences of dying intestate.
For example, if you have stepchildren, you may intend for them to receive an equal share of your estate alongside your biological children. However, unless you went through the proper process of legally adopting them, they will not automatically receive an intestate share of your estate – since stepchildren do not count as children for purposes of intestate succession.
The court will also have to name an executor, which is the person in charge of administering your estate. Without a will, you will have no say in who your executor will be, and the court might nominate someone that you would not have chosen for yourself.
It may not sound fun to sit down and hammer out a thorough and effective estate plan. But by taking care of it now, you can avoid a lot of potential heartache and stress for those you leave behind.