What Happens If I Die Without A Will

Leslee Champion Hungerford - Attorney in Marietta, GAMany wonder what will happen to their belongings if they die without a will. If you die without a valid will while residing in the State of Georgia, you are said to have died “intestate.” In order to determine who will receive your property if you die intestate, the State of Georgia has established a number of laws (known as “intestacy laws” or “laws of intestate succession.”) Only assets that would have passed through your will are affected by intestate succession laws. Usually, this includes only assets that you own alone, in your own name. Many assets will not be affected by intestate succession including jointly held real property, life insurance proceeds, or funds in an IRA, 401(k) or other account in which you have designated the beneficiary by contract.

So the big question is who gets what? If you are married at the time of your death and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants – children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If you do not have any descendants, your spouse will inherit all of your intestate property. However, if you do have descendants, they and your spouse will share your intestate property equally, except that your spouse’s share cannot be less than one-third (1/3). So, if you have one child with your spouse, they each will receive fifty percent (50%) of your estate. If you have four children and a spouse, your spouse will receive one-third (1/3) of your estate and the four children will share equally the remaining two-thirds (2/3).

If you die with no spouse but have children, your children will equally receive an “intestate share” of your property per stirpes. Per Stirpes is a Latin word meaning “by the branch.” An estate of a decedent is distributed per stirpes if each branch of the family is to receive an equal share of an estate. What this language means is that if you have two children and five grandchildren who survive you, then each of your children will receive a 1/2 share and the grandchildren will receive nothing. If, however, one of your children predeceases you and is the parent of three of the grandchildren, then the surviving child will receive a 1/2 share and each grandchild will receive a 1/6 share (in other words, the deceased child’s 1/2 share will be divided equally among the three children who have survived the deceased child: 1/2 divided by 3 = 1/6 each).

If you die without a spouse or children, your estate will then go to your parents. If you are not survived by parents, the next in line to inherit are siblings, followed by nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in that order.

Will the State get my property? People often ask if they do not have a will does that mean the state will get their property. The answer is, very unlikely. If you die without a will and don’t have any family, your property will “escheat” into the state’s coffers. Because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you (i.e. those long lost cousins you haven’t seen in years), it is very unlikely that your property will ever escheat to the state.

The moral of this story is that everyone should have a will in place. Call or email us us to get started on your estate planning today!

(770) 405-0164 or info@odellneal.com