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What’s the danger of dying intestate?

On Behalf of | Apr 16, 2024 | Estate Planning |

Death is inevitable – but nobody likes to think about it. So, what happens if you don’t? Roughly 67% of people in the United States don’t have an estate plan and are at risk of dying intestate.

What’s the harm in that? When you die intestate, the state takes charge of distributing your assets according to predetermined rules. That means that the state – not you or your family members – has the final say when it comes to what you leave behind. That can lead to issues like:

1. Family discord

Without clear, written instructions, disputes can erupt among family members regarding the division of your assets, particularly sentimental items and heirlooms. You may have verbally promised your youngest son your grandfather’s pocket watch, for example, but your eldest son may think that it should naturally come to him. Your adult children, spouse, siblings and other relatives can end up embroiled in bitter conflicts that can damage their relationships forever.

2. Financial hardship

The intestacy probate process can be lengthy – and time-consuming court processes are always costly. Legal fees, court costs and administrative expenses can chip away at whatever you leave behind, and that will reduce what’s available for your heirs. The additional delays caused by the extended process can also make it harder for your family to access the funds they need, which can lead to serious financial strain.

3. Unintended beneficiaries

Intestacy laws follow a very specific rule of distribution, based on familial relationships. This can cause your assets and personal items to pass to people you never intended to inherit. For example, you and your unmarried partner may have been together for years – but they wouldn’t inherit anything from you unless they were a registered domestic partner or you had a civil union. 

Dying intestate means forfeiting control over how your assets are distributed and managed. A will allows you to designate beneficiaries, specify gifts and provide for your loved ones according to your wishes.