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What happens if someone dies without a will?

| Oct 21, 2020 | estates, wills and probate litigation |

Like many people, you may feel that estate planning is no urgent matter. Even if you are nearing – or past – retirement, you will likely think you can delay it if your health is good. Yet, having an estate plan in place will protect your assets and your loved ones in case something happens to you. Without one, you will die intestate.

Understanding intestacy

Intestacy refers to the condition of dying without a valid estate plan in place. If you fail to create a plan, your assets will automatically pass through probate court. The court will appoint an administrator – likely a close family member – to manage your affairs. This individual will take care of your debts, locate your heirs, gather your assets and ensure they disburse following Georgia’s succession laws.

Georgia’s intestate succession laws

If you die without an estate plan, your assets will disburse following Georgia’s intestacy succession laws. Under these, your spouse will inherit the whole of your estate if you have no descendants. If you have descendants but no spouse, they will inherit the whole of your estate per stirpes – meaning “by roots” in Latin. Yet, you may have a spouse and one child. In this case, they will each receive equal shares of your probate estate. If you have a spouse and two or more children, your spouse must receive at least one-third of your probate estate. Your children will receive equal shares of its remainder.

If your next of kin is not your spouse or a child, Georgia’s order of succession is:

  • Your parents
  • Your siblings or their descendants
  • Your grandparents
  • Your aunts and uncles or their descendants

Preventing intestacy

Even if you see no need to create an estate plan, drafting one is the only way to prevent intestacy. While you may not want to think about what will happen when you’re gone, you will want a plan in place as a precaution. Having one will help you make sure your assets go to the people and places you want them to.