Question: What are the legal effects of dying without a Will?
Answer: Assets like life insurance proceeds, or non-probate assets like a Transfer-On-Death account, automatically transfer when you die regardless of whether or not you have a Will. That said, the state of Indiana, as does every state, has a series of laws that determine every possible contingency for distributing your possessions should you call Indiana home and die without a Will. This series of laws is called “Intestate Succession”: you are “intestate” or “not testate” if you do not have a Last Will and Testament, and “succession” refers to your property passing on. The state generally favors your immediate family and then, by degrees, your extended family. However, if you have no remaining heirs among relatives that are descendants of your grandparents, your intestate property will “escheat” (revert) to the State. Please consider that the laws will take effect not only if you have no Will, but potentially also if your Will can’t be located, if you remarry or divorce, if you destroy your Will before making a new one, if your current Will is considered legally deficient somehow if one of your heirs (especially your residual heir) predeceases you, if they disclaim their gifts under the Will (for example, for tax considerations), or if a gift somehow fails under the law. A Will that is completely valid in Indiana, for example, may not meet the legal requirements to dispose of your real estate in Illinois, in which case the laws of Intestate Succession (though in that case, those of Illinois) will apply. The Intestate Succession laws may also affect you as an heir. If you don’t like the state’s rules, you can always draft a Will to avoid them. In order to ensure that your estate stays out of the wrong hands, a Will is the primary and most trusted vehicle that people have used for centuries. Please consult with your local elder law attorney to ensure that an innocent application of Indiana’s Intestate Succession laws does not cause an injustice in your family.