Co-Authored by Joanna C. Feldman, Esq.
Do you understand who will inherit your Estate if you die without a Will?
We recently read an article about a multi-millionaire who died without having executed a Last Will and Testament (“Will”). Certain members of his extended family, with whom he likely had little to no relationship, inherited his Estate. Certain people who knew him well thought that he would have wanted his Estate to go to charity. What struck us was that the author quoted someone who is allegedly knowledgeable in the field of estate inheritance as saying that not having a Will is still someone’s affirmative expression of who should inherit their Estate.
This is, this person implied, because most people understand that there are rules pertaining to who inherits your Estate if you die without a Will and, thus, not having a Will means you are intentionally choosing to be bound by those rules. In other words, the implication was that most people understand not only that the rules exist, but the actual rules are fairly common knowledge. This leads to the question above: Do you understand who will inherit your Estate if you die without a Will?
Based on our experience, most people do not know the rules of intestacy (i.e., the rules of inheritance if one dies without a Will). Even other attorneys who do not practice this type of law do not necessarily know these rules. Did you know, for example, that in New York if someone dies leaving a spouse and children, that the spouse does not inherit everything? Instead, the spouse and children share the inheritance using a formula set forth in the law. To many, this is very surprising.
If it is important for you to have final say in who inherits your Estate, it is important for you to have a Will. Not just any Will, but a Will that is carefully drafted and properly executed, as a lack of attending to either could mean that what you thought was your final say might not be your say at all.