What Happens If I Die without a Will?

New parents often ask — usually right before their first vacation without children —  “What happens if I die without a will?” Many are surprised to learn that everyone has a will: either one that you determined yourself or a set of default rules developed by the State that acts as a will. Michigan has adopted default rules called Michigan Intestate Succession Laws

Essentially, without a will you are leaving it up to the State to determine who is best suited to raise your minor children and who should receive your assets. Fortunately, these State default rules are probably consistent with what many parents would intend to happen anyway. However, the rules are designed to assist the State in running an organized society, not to meet the individual preferences of each and every citizen.

For example, in Michigan, any part of one’s estate not disposed by a will (or joint property with rights of survivorship) will normally be distributed in the following manner: The surviving spouse is entitled to the first $150,000. Any remaining assets are split between the spouse and to the couple’s children.

If one parent passes away, the surviving parent remains the legal guardian. However, if both parents pass without a valid will, the State will determine guardianship through the court system. While the court may entertain the fact that you told your sister you wanted her to care for your children (instead of the dreaded in-laws) if something were to happen to you, it is for the court to determine what is in the best interest of the minor child(ren).  Having a will can ensure that your wishes for the care of your children are carried out.

As you get ready to plan your next vacation, make it a point to add one more item to the to-do list: prepare a will. Although the State default rules may be adequate in many circumstances, a will provides the peace of mind that your children and assets will be cared for as you desire.

– Timothy Wyman, CFP®, JD

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