March 1, 2007
Imagine that when you close your eyes tonight, they never reopen. Do you have a Will? Did you have a Will drafted, but never sign it? Regardless of your answer to these questions, the good news is that everyone has a Will. If you fail to draft or properly execute a valid Will, then the laws of the state in which you pass away will determine how your estate will be distributed. Thus, even though you may have never signed a Will, state law will distribute your estate upon your passing.
First, it is important to note that your estate for purposes of this discussion is defined as your probate estate only. Your probate estate consists of any asset held in your name alone at the time of your passing that does not have a designated beneficiary. The default rules will not apply to any asset that is held jointly so long as the joint owner is alive when you pass away, nor will they apply to any asset with a named beneficiary so long as the beneficiary is alive when you pass away. If the joint owner or named beneficiary predeceases you, then the asset may pass to your estate to be distributed in accordance with the default rules if you have not made a valid Will.
When you die without a Will, the distribution of your property begins by...
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by: Gina M. Barry, Esquire