Last Will Document and a Pen on the Table

What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

Carl J. Mangine, Attorney at Law, PLLC Jan. 26, 2024

Losing a loved one is never easy. It's a time of grief, confusion, and often, uncertainty, especially when it comes to matters of the deceased's estate. If you're currently navigating this difficult chapter, I want you to know that you're not alone. I understand the emotional toll these circumstances can take, and I'm here to provide the guidance and assistance you need during this challenging time.  

My firm, Carl J. Mangine, Attorney at Law, PLLC, is located in the heart of Schertz, Texas. My firm serves clients throughout Guadalupe County, Universal City, Converse, New Braunfels, and San Antonio. My team and I are dedicated to providing compassionate, professional legal services, specifically tailored to estate planning and probate matters.  

The Significance of a Will  

A will isn't just a piece of paper; it's a roadmap to your last wishes and a vital tool for protecting your loved ones' interests after you're gone. A will outlines who inherits your assets, who'll care for your minor children, and who'll manage your estate's administration. Without a will, these decisions are left to state laws and court judgments, which may not align with your personal wishes or your family's best interests.  

Intestate Succession Laws

When a person passes away without a will, they are said to have died "intestate." In such cases, the distribution of their assets is governed by the state's intestate succession laws. These laws serve as a default estate plan, dividing your assets among your closest relatives. However, it's worth noting these laws are broad and impersonal, often failing to consider the unique dynamics or needs of individual families. 

These laws typically prioritize spouses and children. If you're married at the time of your death, your spouse may inherit the majority, if not all, of your estate. If you have children but no spouse, your children will likely be the recipients of your estate. But what happens if you're unmarried and childless? Then, the laws look further out into your family tree, granting your estate to your parents, then siblings, and so forth. 

It's important to understand that intestate succession laws only apply to assets that would have been covered by a will had there been one. This means certain types of assets are excluded. For instance, life insurance proceeds, property held in joint tenancy, and funds in a payable-on-death bank account are not subject to intestate succession laws. Instead, these assets will go directly to the named beneficiary or surviving co-owner. 

Also, intestate succession laws do not acknowledge relationships outside of marriage and blood relations. Unmarried partners, friends, charities, and other entities you might have wished to leave something to receive nothing under these laws. This can be particularly distressing in the case of long-term, committed relationships where the couple has chosen not to marry. 

While intestate succession laws provide a safety net, they lack the flexibility and consideration of a well-crafted will.  

The Potential for Disputes and Delays  

In the absence of a clear will dictating your wishes, your estate can become a source of contention among your surviving loved ones. Disputes can arise over the interpretation of your intentions, leading to potential legal battles and prolonging the already complex probate process. A well-crafted will minimizes the risk of such conflicts and provides clear direction for the distribution of your assets.  

Guardianship Decisions  

If you have minor children, a will becomes even more crucial. In your will, you can designate a trusted individual to take on the guardianship of your children if the unthinkable happens. Without this designation, the decision falls to the courts, which may not make the same choice you would have.  

The Opportunity to Avoid Probate  

Probate—the legal process of administering your estate after death—can be time-consuming, costly, and stressful for your loved ones. A comprehensive will, particularly one that establishes mechanisms like a living trust, can help your family avoid probate or expedite the process, easing their burden during a difficult time.  

The Importance of Regular Updates  

Life is full of changes—marriages, births, divorces, acquisitions of assets—and your will should reflect these shifts. Regularly updating your will ensures it accurately represents your current situation and wishes. Neglecting these updates can lead to unintended consequences and potential disputes.  

Discover Options You & Your Family Have 

Estate planning, though often overlooked, is a vital aspect of securing your legacy and protecting your loved ones' future. At Carl J. Mangine, Attorney at Law, PLLC, I am dedicated to guiding you through this complex process with compassion, knowledge, and personalized attention. From my base in Schertz, Texas, I serve clients across Guadalupe County, Universal City, Converse, New Braunfels, and San Antonio, providing professional legal services tailored to your unique needs. Contact me today to start the journey towards peace of mind, knowing your final wishes will be honored and your loved ones cared for.