When you’re in your 20s, you’re thinking about getting started in life. You’re typically not thinking about approaching the end of your life. As you start work, and you start accumulating things like your first home or a 401k, it’s crucial that you think about what would happen to these assets after you die. Dying without a last will and testament means that your state’s probate court, not you, will determine what happens to your assets. The people you leave behind could lose what you’ve earned, and they’ll face major hassles after you’re gone. Creating a rudimentary will, even in your 20s, is a smart financial decision.
Dying Without a Will
Certain assets, including life insurance benefits and retirement accounts, allow you to designate a beneficiary. If you die, the money passes directly to the beneficiary without going through probate. Other assets, like real estate, will have to be probated. If you have no will, you’re considered intestate, and the court will then divide your assets according to state law.
Although state laws differ, the division typically follows these patterns:
- Single, no children. If you’re single and have no children, your parents and then your siblings will most likely get your estate.
- Single with children. The court will appoint a guardian for your children. Your children will inherit your estate, but a guardian will hold the funds until they turn 18.
- Married, no children. In some states, the surviving spouse inherits everything. In other states, the estate divides between the spouse and your parents.
- Married with children. Your spouse will get one-third to one-half of your estate, and your children will get the rest, which will be held by a guardian until they turn 18.
- In a relationship. If you’re living with someone but you’re not married, your partner won’t inherit anything unless you’ve filed for recognition as domestic partners. Similarly, if you’re in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, and you’re in a same-sex relationship, your partner won’t receive anything when your estate is probated.
What Happens During Probate
If you haven’t created a last will and testament, the court starts by inventorying your estate and using the proceeds to pay off all your creditors. If you owe money on a credit card or money for a vehicle, the court will either use your assets to pay off the debt or assign your debt to one of your family members. If you have federal student loans, your family won’t have to pay them off after you die. For private student loans, you family might be on the hook.
After paying your creditors, a court-appointed executor will divide your estate, minus probate fees, according to the law. If you have minor children, your children will go to a court-appointed guardian. Even if you’re married and your spouse remains guardian of your children, the court often appoints a separate guardian for their part of your inheritance. Your surviving spouse will get part of your estate, but they won’t be able to access the remainder for your kids’ expenses.
Who Needs a Will
If you have minor children, it’s almost unconscionable to avoid creating a will. You can use a simple online form, or you can consult an attorney to designate guardianship for your kids. The last thing you want is a judge deciding who gets to raise your children.
Also, creating a will helps you make sure that the right people inherit your estate. For instance, f you prefer that your spouse inherit everything and that your parents get nothing, it’s crucial to spell out your wishes in your last will and testament. If you have a niece or nephew to whom you’d like to give money, but you don’t want your sibling having access to the funds, you can use your will to set up a separate guardian for the money.
Finally, if you’re in a same-sex relationship in a state that’s not friendly to gay partnerships, you shouldn’t leave your partner high and dry in the event of your death. To ensure maximum protection for your partner, particularly if your family members aren’t accepting of your relationship, talk to an attorney about the best way to ensure your partner gets your assets.