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What happens when you die without a will in Massachusetts?

Everyone needs to have a will drawn up, regardless of the size of their estate. However, every day Massachusetts residents die without wills, or intestate, which is the legal term when this occurs.

So what happens to the property of a resident of the Commonwealth who dies intestate? It depends.

If the person was married but had no living children:

-- If the decedent has a living parent as well, the wife or husband receives the first $200,000 of the estate and 75 percent of the remainder, with 25 percent going to the surviving parent(s).

-- When the deceased person has surviving descendants who also are the descendants of their spouse who survived them, and this spouse has at least one surviving descendant who isn't the descendant of the person who died intestate, the spouse inherits the first $100,000 and 50 percent of the balance of the decedent's estate.

-- When at least one of the deceased person's surviving descendants aren't the descendants of the decedent's spouse who survived him or her, the spouse gets the first $100,000 and 50 percent of the balance.

If the person who died intestate had one or more children and was married:

-- When all living children are from the union between the surviving spouse and decedent, the spouse gets the entirety of the estate.

When the spouse survives the decedent who dies intestate, the descending order of the distribution of the estate goes like this:

-- Spouse

-- Child(ren) and descendants of the child(ren)

-- Parents

-- Siblings and siblings' descendants

-- Next of kin (With more than one collateral kin of equal degree but via different ancestors, those kin through the closest ancestor are given preference)

If there are no surviving relatives, the Commonwealth receives the entirety of the estate. Some limited exceptions exist for veterans.

Making one's wishes known by drafting a notarized will eliminates the problems of intestacy.

Source: Die$mart.com, "Dying Intestate Massachusetts," accessed Jan. 13, 2017

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