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Dying Without a Will: What are the Legal Repercussions?

While most of us hope to live forever, the truth of the matter is that it's just not in the cards. Death is inevitable, and you have to be prepared for it.

When you die, all of your assets are passed to someone. Who that person is depends completely upon you, and whether you have acted to sign documents for what you want. If you haven't, the state where you live makes the decision for you because you've not acted.

If you've got a last will and testament effectively signed, your estate will go to the people whom you've specified in your will to receive it. If you don't have a last will and testament that is signed, your estate is subject to the laws of the land.

So, what does that mean exactly? Let's discuss.

These are the legal repercussions of dying without a will.

Childless and Single

If you're single, have no a will, and have no children, the state's statute, called in Illinois the law of Descent and Distribution, specifies what happens to your assets when you die, depending on which of your relatives survive you.

Those with one or two surviving parents as well as siblings will have their estate split up equally amongst the parents and the siblings. If only one parent survives, that surviving parent gets a double share.

If there are no surviving parents, the estate will be split between siblings. If there are no surviving parents or siblings, the estate will be split among the families of both your mother's and father's sides, or if only one side has relatives who survive you, that side gets it all. If you have no living relatives (as described in the statute of Descent and Distribution), the state gets it all.

Single with Children

For those who are single, but have kids, or grandkids, their estates will be passed down to their descendants, with children of a deceased child getting a share to split amongst them.

If your children are deceased, but you've got grandkids, your assets will be passed down to your grandkids and split on the basis of what their parents would have gotten. If your children are deceased and you don't have any grandkids or more remote descendants, you'll be treated as single and childless.

Married and Childless

If you're married and you've never had kids, what happens to your estate is dependent on how you handle your finances. The way married couples hold their property varies. It's never cut-and-dry, and should be discussed with an attorney in order to truly understand it for a given situation.

Share finances with your spouse, meaning holding your assets in joint tenancy? If so, all of your estate will typically go to that spouse.

If just your name is on assets, and you are married without kids, your spouse will still get it all in Illinois. If you did want to leave something to your siblings and your parents, they would be out of luck unless you had a valid will, or you put their names on some or all of your assets.

Married with Children

Those who are married and who have children will have the their assets go one half to their spouse, and one half split into equal shares among their children, with children of a deceased child taking that child's share in equal shares.

This result applies even if your spouse is not the other parent of your children, and will exclude children of your spouse that are not your descendants, regardless of whether they are living with you, unless you have formally adopted them.

Unmarried with a Life Partner

If you're not married, and have no kids, but are in a long-term relationship with someone, your assets pass in the same manner as one who is childless and single.

This result does put a premium on handling your finances so your partner's name is on some or all of your assets, either as a joint tenant or as a beneficiary who receives the asset in a transfer upon your death. It's wise to speak with a lawyer in order to get more information if this situation applies to you.

Work with Us to Avoid Dying Without a Will

Dying without a will is almost always a difficult and a sometimes surprising situation when it comes to your assets. You want to make sure that your estate is being passed down to the people in your life who you truly intend to receive it. Having a valid will is one of the best ways of doing so.

If you are looking to set up a will, the attorneys at John J. Pembroke & Associates can help you. Our experienced team of attorneys will make sure that your estate is set to be placed in the right hands.

Contact us to speak with an attorney today!

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