What Happens If I Die Without a Will?

November 5, 2018 / 7:00 pm

When the music legend Aretha Franklin died this month, she left behind an amazing musical legacy and her estate.

What she didn’t leave was a will, meaning her heirs are left to divide up her estate.

It’s a scenario that’s all too common in the music world, Los Angeles estate attorney Laura Zwicker told Business Insider in 2016.

“My experience with people in the music industry is, even more than other people, they think they’ll live forever,” said Zwicker, who specializes in estates worth $100 million or more. “So, getting them to focus on a plan is really a challenge.”

None of us live forever, even if we achieve immortality, by, say, writing the song Think. It’s important to have a plan for your estate after your death.

Dying without a will means you are what the courts consider “intestate,” which means laws of your state determine how your property is distributed.

In most cases, your assets would go to your spouse, or your children or other relatives, depending on the situation.

This can get extremely messy, which is why it’s never too early to think about estate planning. Here are 10 reasons why you should have a will:

1. You control how your assets will be distributed

Dying without a will means you’ll have no say in how your wishes are carried out. You’ll minimize the chances of your family feuding over who gets what and ensure that your loved ones are provided for after you’re gone.

2. You can look out for your kids

You might have a specific person in mind to care for your children after your death. It might be someone who isn’t your next of kin. Dying without a will means that the state might intervene and have a blood relative take custody of your children, even though you had thought – but sadly, never put in writing – that one of your friends would make a better guardian.

3. You can disinherit people

We aren’t saying you’d do this gleefully. But we also understand that not all families are happy ones. If you’ve spent the last few decades estranged from an abusive parent, and supported by loving friends, you’d want to be sure that it was those friends who were remembered in your will.

4. You can make gifts or donations

Let’s say that you were a lifelong patron of the arts, or a fervent believer in animal rights. But you’ve died without a will, and your family members don’t feel as strongly about your causes as you did. If you had a will, you’d be able to set aside some money for gifts and donations.

5. You’ll streamline the probate process

Every estate needs to go through probate, but an estate that has a will attached to it speeds up this process. Dying without a will means the court will have to determine who to divide your assets, and this can be a protracted process, one that you can avoid with a visit to an estate planning attorney.

The lawyers at Penglase & Benson have spent years helping clients set up wills, living wills, trusts and powers of attorney, all documents designed to carry out your wishes and care for your family when you can no longer speak for yourself.

Or you could just take a page from another musician: Snoop Dogg, who once told a reporter he has no will and hopes to be reincarnated as a butterfly so he can watch over the resulting family squabble.

If you share his hopes, we wish you well in the next life. If not, contact us today for a free consultation.