As we’ve made clear in previous posts, those who find themselves hesitant to undertake even the most basic estate planning, such as the execution of a simple will, should be aware that their property will not necessarily be distributed in accordance with their exact wishes.

As sobering as the reality of this news might be to some, it will likely be met with either misunderstanding or indifference by others. As such, it may be helpful to spend some time examining the intestate distribution scheme here in Massachusetts. 

Indeed, learning more about how hard-earned assets could conceivably go to potentially undeserving family members or even the state might prove to be just the incentive these reluctant estate planners need.

Understanding who your heirs actually are

When an individual dies intestate (i.e., without a will) state law dictates that there are five categories of potential heirs, meaning those otherwise entitled to their assets. These five categories of heirs include 1) spouses, 2) descendants (children, stepchildren, etc.), 3) parents, 4) parent’s descendants (brothers, sisters, etc.) and 5) next of kin.

Property distribution in which the surviving spouse is the only heir  

One of the threshold determinations that must be made before the property of the deceased can be divided via the state’s intestate distribution scheme is whether they have a surviving spouse.

If there is a surviving spouse, he or she would be considered the only heir under the following circumstances:

  • The surviving spouse and the deceased have children, all of whom were born of the marriage; or
  • The surviving spouse and the deceased have no children (biological children or stepchildren), and the parents of the deceased are no longer alive.  

We’ll continue examining this important topic in future posts. In the meantime, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you would like to learn more about your estate planning options from simple wills to more complex asset protection strategies.