It's a common myth that if you don't have an estate plan, your assets will automatically go to the state. This is largely untrue, but there's more nuance to it.
What Actually Happens to Your Assets Without an Estate Plan:
1. Intestate Succession: If you die without an estate plan (known as dying "intestate"), state laws called intestacy laws will determine how your assets are distributed. These laws vary by state, but generally, they distribute assets to your closest relatives, starting with your spouse and children.
2. Finding Heirs: The state will attempt to locate your legal heirs. This process involves identifying and contacting next of kin such as spouses, children, parents, and siblings. If no relatives can be found, the process expands to more distant relatives.
3. The Rare Case of Escheatment: If no heirs can be located after a thorough search, then and only then might your assets "escheat," or revert, to the state. This is a rare occurrence as most people have some distant relatives.
Why Estate Planning Still Matters:
1. Control Over Distribution: Without an estate plan, you have no control over who inherits your assets. Your personal wishes or unique family dynamics aren't considered under intestacy laws.
2. Protecting Minor Children: Estate planning is crucial if you have minor children. It allows you to designate guardians for them in case both parents pass away. Without this, the courts will decide who will take care of your children.
3. Avoiding Delays and Expenses: The process of settling an intestate estate can be lengthy and expensive. Your assets could be tied up in probate court for months or even years, delaying distributions to your loved ones.
4. Special Circumstances: If you have specific desires, such as leaving assets to a non-family member, a charity, or setting up a trust for a family member with special needs, an estate plan is essential.
In summary, while it's a myth that the state automatically takes your assets if you don't have an estate plan, not having one means losing control over how your assets are distributed and potentially creating unnecessary complications for your loved ones. Estate planning is about making sure your wishes are fulfilled and providing for and protecting your family even after you're gone.