Dying Without a Will — What’s the Worst that Can Happen?

Burns & Levinson LLP

Burns & Levinson LLP

It is very difficult for many of us to acknowledge that death is, eventually, a certainty for all of us. It’s a topic we’d like to avoid altogether, and it’s something we often avoid planning for because to plan for death is to acknowledge it’s going to happen. A failure to plan, though, means that you lose control over what happens upon your death — not only the disposition of your assets but also the appointment of a Personal Representative to administer your estate. These issues are critically important, and both can be addressed in detail via a simple Will.

In the early stages of this blog, I wrote about how we can “learn from famous mistakes,” including the mistake made by celebrities like Aretha Franklin, Prince, and Amy Winehouse. Each of them died without a Will. Because none of them left a Will, their large estates passed through “intestacy” — laws that direct where the property will go in the absence of a Will, generally to the “next of kin” as defined in those laws without regard to whether the deceased individual has any relationship with or affinity for those people.

Some might say, “well, I don’t have millions of dollars like Aretha, so why bother?” It is important to remember that a Will disposes of your assets and designates your choice for the appointment of a Personal Representative to manage your affairs following your death. In the absence of a Will, again, this will be determined by law, which assigns priority to family members in degrees defined by statute. Even in the absence of any significant assets to manage, the nomination of a Personal Representative is essential, including with respect to such things as cremation and funeral arrangements.

So what’s the worst that can happen if you die without a Will? Your long-lost cousin, who happens to be your closest blood relative, gets to decide whether you are cremated or buried and then takes whatever money you have. It may sound like a long shot, but I’ve seen it happen. Take charge of your affairs, and put a Will into place — everyone, everywhere, needs this.

Until next time!


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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