If you have not gotten around to drafting a will, you are not alone. A recent survey found that 67% of Americans do not have an estate plan. However, the decision to avoid drafting an enforceable will could have unwanted consequences.
And that raises the question: what happens to your estate if you die without a will?
In most cases, state law will guide the transfer of the estate. In Texas, this means assets and debts will likely be distributed to the following parties (in the following order):
- Spouse. If you have a spouse, the spouse will likely get the entire estate. This can be problematic, particularly if you have children from another relationship.
- Children. If no spouse is present, the estate passes to the children and grandchildren.
- Parents. If children or grandchildren are not present, the court will split the estate between your mother and father. If only one parent remains, the court splits the estate, with half going to the parent and the remainder split between any surviving siblings.
- Siblings. If neither parent remains, the estate is split between siblings.
If none of these options are available, the state has rules that guide how to split the estate to cousins and other relatives.
It is also important to note that without proper planning, an estate will likely go through probate, a complicated and time-consuming legal process. Estate planning tools, such as trusts, can help to reduce the need for probate and better ensure a smooth distribution of assets. Trusts may also help minimize tax obligations.
Leaving the transfer of your estate up to the probate court instead of your own wishes can not only diminish the value of the estate; it can also result in heartache and confusion for loved ones. To learn more about effective estate planning tools in Texas, please see our estate planning overview.