What Happens When You Die Without a Will

older couple sitting on bench

Wealthy, high profile people neglect estate planning more often than you might expect. Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman passed away without a will in 2020, though Boseman had been fighting cancer for four years. While estate planning failures aren’t the norm among celebrities, they’re neither new nor rare. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Prince and Bob Marley all died without wills. Phillip Seymour Hoffman famously neglected to update his will to include his second and third children. 

It’s not just entertainers, either. In the sports arena, NFL player Steve McNair and soccer legend Diego Maradona died without wills. Maradona had publicly stated his intention to give most of his estate to charity, but he never executed the documents that would have made it happen. Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, left his long-time live-in girlfriend with nothing when he died intestate in 2004. Pablo Picasso’s estate was eventually split among six relatives after he died without a will.

Zappos founder Tony Hsieh didn’t have a will, either, and was worth approximately $840 million when he died unexpectedly in November. Nor did billionaire businessman and inventor Howard Hughes, or Abraham Lincoln–not just President of the United States, but also an attorney.

If you’re like most people, you’re probably a little shocked that all of these wealthy people never took the time to make sure their loved ones were protected. After all, they likely had lawyers and business managers. Some were genius businessmen or had legal backgrounds. Surely they knew better? 

And yet, chances are good that you haven’t taken those steps yourself.

Of course, you probably don’t have $2.5 billion at stake like the aviator and big-budget film producer who designed a military seaplane. But, the issues aren’t all that different.

What Happens to Your Property after You Die?

The bottom line is that either you decide who will receive your property after you die and execute the legal documents necessary to make that happen or the state of Washington will decide. That’s true whether you have a multi-million dollar estate or just personal property, a bank account, your car and the family Bible.

Many people assume that those closest to them will inherit automatically, or will just divide assets up among themselves. But, relying on a combination of state law and family cooperation to provide for the people you care about most is risky at best. 

The formula that determines how property is distributed when you die without a will is set forth in Washington’s law of intestate succession. Under intestate succession, here are some of the people who will never inherit anything: 

  • Your long-time but unregistered domestic partner
  • The stepchild you raised as your own
  • Your lifelong best friend
  • The live-in nurse who cared for you during the last years of your life
  • Your business partner

Other people could possibly inherit, but only if there isn’t someone higher up in the hierarchy. These people include: 

  • Your parents
  • Your siblings
  • Your grandparents

The rules of intestate succession cast an ever-widening net among legal and blood relatives until reaching someone in the line of succession. That means if you don’t have close family members living, your long-time unregistered partner would receive nothing while your entire estate might pass to a first cousin once removed in Pittsburgh whom you’ve never met.

Of course, that’s just one scenario. The key point is that you can’t assume that the people who mean the most to you will be protected. It’s up to you to take steps to provide for them. 

The first step is easy: speak with an experienced Washington estate planning attorney.

At Harbor Law Firm, we make estate planning as simple and stress-free as possible. That means: 

  • Knowledgeable guidance customized to your circumstances and your goals
  • A fully remote process that never requires you to leave home
  • Early morning, evening, and weekend hours to fit your schedule
  • An adaptable process for exchanging documents and collaborating
  • Flat-rate pricing that ensures you’ll never be surprised by a legal bill

We also offer free consultations. Schedule yours right now.

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