Question: I am an unmarried person and do not have any children. My parents died many years ago and I have no siblings. Who inherits my property if I die without a will?
Answer: Dying without a will is known as dying “intestate”. When someone dies intestate the law determines who inherits from an estate. To administer the estate, it must be determined who are the distributees of the decedent.
If you pass away without a spouse, children or parents or siblings, the following persons are distributees and would inherit from your estate:
Half passes to your paternal grandparents, or to the children of the paternal grandparents (aunts and uncles) or children of predeceased aunts and uncles (first cousins) if both grandparents are deceased. The other half passes to the maternal relatives in the same manner. If there is no one surviving on either the paternal or maternal side, the entire estate passes to the other side; or
If none of the above, half to the children of the predeceased first cousins on the paternal side and half to the children of the predeceased first cousins on the maternal side. If there are no survivors on one side, the whole estate passes to the other side.
The above distribution likely does not reflect who you would want to inherit your property. You may not even know the people who would inherit. Intestacy leaves nothing to friends, romantic partners, or charities even though you may want them to inherit your estate.
In this situation, you would want to consider executing a revocable trust. The initial cost to create a revocable trust may be more than the cost of executing a will. However, spending the money to do a trust now may save your intended beneficiaries money in the long run since trusts avoid the probate process.
If probate is required, and you have chosen to disinherit an intestate distributee, that person is given notice of the proceeding and an opportunity to challenge your will. The process can be costly and time consuming, resulting in a reduced inheritance and delay for your intended beneficiaries. With a trust, unlike a will, there is no notification required when administered. Your trustee can simply distribute the assets as you have set forth in the trust agreement.
If you are a single person you likely have people in your life that you consider to be family. You may have charitable causes that are also close to your heart. If you do not take action to avoid the intestate distribution of your assets at your death by executing a will or trust, then these people or causes that are so important to you will not receive anything from your estate and your assets could pass to people you do not like or even know.