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What Happens if You Die Without a Will?
What Happens if You Die Without a Will?
What Happens if You Die Without a Will?
Estate Plan Lawyer » Resources » What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

When you die, your will designates an executor (personal representative), who will get your property, and guardianship for any children under 18. Wills make it much easier for your survivors to navigate the probate process. In Michigan, if you die without a will the state law determines who gets your property (intestate assets).

The bad news: This means that if you are married and die without a will, your spouse will share your estate with your living children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and/or parents. Michigan breaks it down even further depending on if the children were from another relationship or not. It’s complicated! If you die without a will, your family can have a much tougher time navigating Michigan’s probate system.

The good news: There are certain assets that are not covered by a will such as real estate, investments (e.g., 401k, IRA, SEP), life insurance benefits, and other assets that are jointly held or have designated beneficiaries. These assets go directly to the designated beneficiaries and are not required to go through the probate process. But, if you have no designated beneficiaries, these will also have to go through probate.

What is intestate vs. probate?

Sometimes people confuse intestate and probate. Simply put, intestate is when someone dies without having a valid will. Probate is the court procedure that determines what happens to a person’s assets, taxes, and debts when someone dies. When you die, with or without a will, your assets go through the probate process. When you die intestate, your assets go through the probate process, but the disposition of your assets, debts, taxes and final expenses is decided by a judge following the guidelines of Michigan law.

When you have a will and estate plan, you designate what becomes of your assets. Probate is much simpler and quicker with a will.

Dying without a will can hurt your loved ones

Certain assets are not part of the process when they have designated beneficiaries. These include IRAs, 401k plans, life insurance policies, and annuities. In addition, jointly owned bank accounts (with a surviving co-owner) and many trusts will not need probate with or without a will.

But, if you die without a will, the court will supervise:

  • Gathering and distributing assets
  • Paying debts, final expenses, and taxes
  • Determining guardianship for children under 18 and conservatorship for disabled adults

Because Michigan probate law will probably not distribute your assets as you want, you need an estate plan to provide for your family and keep the peace after you are gone. The Michigan probate courts do not follow your wishes when making these judgments. This can put your family in a very difficult position. Your children may wind up with an in-law they hardly know instead of close friends they’ve known all their lives.

But, if you had a will, you could have appointed a personal representative to take care of these things according to your wishes.

In addition, with a will you can:

  • Determine caretakers for your pets
  • Provide legacy donations to non-profits
  • Gift heirlooms, household items, and items with sentimental value to specific people
  • Send messages to your beneficiaries

It’s unfair to add more stress when your family is already grieving. Having a will helps your family move on. Dying without a will (intestate) can extend both the grieving and probate processes for your family.

7 things that can happen if you die without a will

Because Michigan probate court will not distribute your assets as you want, the following are some things that can happen when you die without a will:

  1. You may not get the funeral or burial that you wanted. A will is a good place to designate any funeral, burial, cremation and/or memorials when you die.
  2. Your pets may not be cared for properly. Though your pets cannot inherit, a will can designate who will provide care for your pets and you can also establish and fund a trust for their care.
  3. A relative you despise or hardly know can get more money than people you love. With a will, you can specifically cut people out of inheritance who would have been beneficiaries under state law. A will helps you ensure that you can take care of the people you love.
  4. People you love will fight among themselves. Everyone grieves differently and each person has their own perspective on their relationship with you. This means that they may have unrealistic expectations about what your wishes might have been. Those expectations can explode into family feuds. A will helps your family understand your wishes. It provides an opportunity for your family to become closer and build on relationships.
  5. Your heirs may wind up in court fighting over their inheritance and who will administer your estate. Litigation and appearances in probate court can be costly and deplete your estate’s assets. With a will, you can designate an executor to administer your estate and avoid costly litigation.
  6. Your child may wind up in a less supportive environment. Guardianship will be determined by a court and may not be based on what you would have wanted for your child. A will makes it very clear who should be the designated guardian
  7. Your disabled or elderly family members may not get the care they need. As a family, we try to take care of each other and sometimes take for granted the caregiving that we do. When you are gone, a will can designate who and how the people you care for will be supported and helped.

Clearly, a will and an estate plan can make all the difference in what happens after you are gone. It’s a really good feeling to know that the people you love will know the best way to honor your legacy.

Get a will and an estate plan that fits your needs

Most people need a will along with an estate plan The Estate Planning Law Firm provides this online tool to help you create a customized will and the estate plan that’s right for you. Our estate planning packages range from $99 to $1,099. They are crafted by our attorneys and customized by you. Take the quiz on our website and find the estate planning package that fits your life.
It just takes three steps:

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