If you’re considering what happens to your property after you die, it’s important to know that unless you take adequate steps now, your property may pass to those whom you do not wish to receive it. In some instances, the failure to create a last will and testament or other estate planning device can even lead to the state government inheriting your property.
If you create a will, you get to determine who receives your property. You can choose anyone you wish, and are under no obligations to leave any property to anyone else. Your spouse is entitled to a specific portion of your property, but you do not have to leave any property to your children.
When a person dies without leaving behind a last will and testament, this is known as dying intestate. A person who dies without a will have no way of telling others who should receive her property. When this happens, each state has its own set of laws that pre-determined who receives such intestate property, known as laws of intestate succession. These laws differ considerably, but essentially state that certain relatives are entitled to inherit your property if you die intestate. For example, some states determine that any surviving spouse you have will automatically inherit all of your property, while others determine that the spouse will split the estate with your surviving children.
While a last will and testament is important, it only governs the property you own, known as your estate. If you transfer all of your property to another entity while you are alive, such as to a trust, then there is no property for your will to distribute. However, if you failed to properly transfer any of your property to a living trust, that property would be subject to intestate succession if you also fail to create a valid last will and testament.