What Happens If You Do Not Have A Will?
Creating a will is not legally required, but its benefits cannot be overstated. Wills are often the basis or starting point for a fuller estate plan. They state your intentions and wishes for your estate and your loved ones when you pass away or if you become incapacitated.
You need to understand a few crucial things:
1. Wills involve the appropriate descent and distribution of assets from an individual to others at death.
2. A will, as a document itself, is a statement of intention only. It is not a legally significant document until the author dies and the will is brought to probate court to be authenticated (“allowed”).
If you do not have a will and your assets are owned individually at death, your estate requires an “administration.” Similar to probate, the proceeding is typically complex, takes a minimum of one year, is expensive and is public.
In Massachusetts, for those without a will, the commonwealth decides how property is distributed in accordance with the intestacy statute. This may not be the distribution result you desire. That is why it is always important to have a will.
Why Avoid Probate?
Wills do not necessarily eliminate the need for the probate process. If assets are owned individually by the decedent, a probate proceeding will be necessary. This means that individually owned real estate, bank accounts and investment accounts are included.
Probate proceedings are usually good to avoid because:
- They are administratively complex
- They are time-consuming (minimum of one year from the date of death)
- They are expensive
- They are a public proceeding
The attorneys of the Center for Elder Law & Estate Planning can help you understand your options for avoiding probate and preserving your assets wherever possible. This can often be done with trusts.