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The repercussions of dying intestate or without a will

Yes it's normal; most people simply don't like to contemplate their own mortality. But the reality is that things happen and what would happen if you suffered a heart attack or were involved in a serious car accident and died tomorrow? Have you taken steps to establish a will or trust and provide for your loved ones?

Let's say that you don't have any type of estate plan. You may reason that your family will be fine as your assets and belongings will simply pass to your spouse or children. While technically this is true, when an individual dies intestate or without a will an estate must go through a lengthy and often costly probate process through which assets, property and personal belongings are distributed in accordance with a state’s succession laws. In the interim, one's spouse and children may be in desperate need of financial assistance to which they won't have access until the courts settle an estate.

Dying without a will also means that a spouse or other loved ones will be tasked with trying to sort out one's personal financial issues including outstanding debts. Upon establishing a will, an executor is appointed who helps ensures that an individual's "affairs are in order." This includes paying bills, closing accounts, canceling credit cards, dealing with creditors and paying off debts.

Additionally, in cases where an individual dies without attending to estate planning matters he or she may fail to make updates to important beneficiary designations. Consequently, an ex-spouse or estranged relative could end up receiving payouts from a life insurance or other investment policy that an individual intended to leave to a spouse or child.

There are no guarantees in life and there's a saying that tomorrow is not promised. It's important, therefore, to plan for the unexpected. Doing so helps ensure that one's wishes are followed and that a spouse and family is provided for and spared the stress of having to endure a lengthy probate process and blindly attempting to sort out one's personal estate.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Top Ten Reasons to Have a Will," Dec. 4, 2015

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