I have been asked this question several times in the last year, and it is typically followed by a statement like: “I’m sure everything will be taken care of by my kids” or “my situation is pretty straight forward”. So how basic does your situation have to be in order to not need a will? If you truly have no heirs and no worldly possessions, then you get a pass – but otherwise, you should probably have one.
If for no other reason, you need a will to name an executor (or executrix). This is the person responsible for handling your affairs after you pass on. If you do not have a will, the probate court will appoint one. Anyone with good reason can petition the court to be appointed, so in my opinion, there is no reason to leave this in question. The executor or court appointed administrator performs many important functions, including gathering all of the assets of the estate, paying any debts or taxes owed by the deceased, and distributing the remaining property to the named beneficiaries.
If you die without a will, your state of residence will decide who gets what through what are called intestacy laws. These rules vary from state to state and assets generally go to the immediate family first, such as a spouse, parents, or children. If you are single with no children or surviving parents, then the state is going to decide who is the most important of your remaining relatives. In Pennsylvania, this is generally:
- Siblings and their children, followed by
- Uncles, aunts, and their children and grandchildren, and finally,
- The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Yes, if no one else is named in PA it goes to the State. That may be a crying shame if you had a best friend or favorite charity that was more deserving.
It would be a good idea to check with a local attorney about the laws in your state and to see about getting this simple, but important, estate planning document in place.
Also, see a recent Rodgers & Associates Newsletter, “What to Do When a Relative Passes Away”.