What happens if someone dies without a will?

| Jun 14, 2018 | Firm News

Making a will is an easy thing to put off. People often think that they’ll get it around to it when they’re older, but life happens, people are busy, and sometimes the will isn’t in place when it’s actually needed. So, what happens when someone dies without a will? In Georgia, the law dictates a specific method of property division.

Family Inheritance

A common misconception is that your property will automatically go to the state if you don’t have a will, but that’s not true. Instead, all your property will go to your family members. Which family members get what depends on who survives you. The rules governing this are referred to as “intestacy laws,” and this is the succession Georgia uses:

  1. Your spouse and children. In Georgia, your spouse automatically inherits your estate. If you have children, they’ll share equally in the estate as well, but your spouse will inherit no less than a third. For example, if you and your spouse have four children, the spouse would inherit a third of the state, and the four kids would divide the remaining two thirds, which equals one sixth each. If any of your children are deceased, their children would be able to divide that portion. It’s important to note that these rules apply equally to all your surviving children, not just the ones you have with your spouse. If any other children from past relationships come forward, they will have equal standing under the law.
  2. Your father, mother, brothers and sisters. If you have no spouse or children, your estate will be divided equally between your parents and siblings, including any half siblings you may have.
  3. Your grandparents, aunts and uncles, first cousins. Let’s say that you don’t surviving parents or siblings. The next in line are your grandparents, then your aunts and uncles, and then your first cousins.
  4. Closest other relatives. If none of the above survive you, the state will attempt to find your closest living relative to inherit your estate.

Avoiding Intestacy Laws

The only way to avoid these intestacy laws is to make a will with the help of an attorney, which anyone over the age of 14 can do in Georgia. By making a will of your own, you dictate the exact terms of your estate division. Perhaps you want to leave it to family members, but you’d like to adjust the proportions, or designate particular property to particular people. Maybe you’d like to leave something to a person you’re not actually related to. Maybe you’d like to leave your estate to a nonprofit, church or other entity. In these and other cases, having a will is the only way to guarantee that your wishes will be carried out. In the end, that’s what most people want.