I have seen various statistics on the number of Americans who die intestate, or without a will. The numbers range from just over 50% to just about two thirds.
No matter which number is right, that is simply too high.
If you die without a will the state decides who gets what. Also, a judge will decide who gets to care for your minor children, if any.
I explain, briefly, what the likely legal outcome is if you die without a will in Florida here:
But I want to emphasize the non legal aspects here. Not so much the law, as the family aspects. If you die without a will, someone is going to have to be named personal representative. Depending on who your relatives are, the person who is the personal representative may wind up not being the person you would choose; in fact, some of the biggest probate fights I have seen were over who was going to be executor.
The personal representative is probably going to have to post a bond; they are going to have to spend money to get an insurance company to issue a piece of paper insuring you. This costs money, and takes time.
People who you might not want to get your property may get some of it. If you don’t have a spouse or children, it is probably going to your brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. If you come from a large family, where your siblings had a lot of children, it is entirely possible that you may wind up with a bunch of people you barely knew, or never even met, inheriting from you. The term lawyers use is “laughing heir” which means just what it sounds like; someone who finds out a distant relative died, left them some money or property and they are happy about it. It’s up to you, but personally, I would not want someone to be happy over my death; particularly someone that I never met, that I never knew, being thrilled because I was dead and the state law says that they get my money.
People who you might want to get your money probably won’t; or at least, they won’t get as much as you would like. In the case above, where the person leaves no children, no spouse, but several siblings and nieces and nephews, that person may very well be close to or have a favorite niece or brother or sister. If they leave a will, they can see that favorite gets what they want; if the don’t leave a will, all they are entitled to is a proportionate share; if there’s 8 brothers and sisters, each brother and sister will get one eighth share; if one of those siblings is dead, then their children will split their parents share between them; in other words, in a case where one of 8 brothers and sisters is dead, and that dead brother leaves 4 children, his children are going to split one quarter of one eighth, or one thirty second of the estate, each. If that’s OK with you, then great; but if one of those nieces was your favorite, a niece who looked after and called and visited you, I can tell you that niece is going to feel left out; not because she didn’t get much money, but because her favorite aunt or uncle didn’t think enough to draft a will.
If you have minor children, you absolutely, positively, need a will. You need to appoint a guardian to look after your children. If you die without a will, a judge is going to appoint as guardian whoever the judge sees fit; you are not going to have any input into who raises your children.
The cost of a will is modest, in most cases; a few hundred dollars, even for a married couple. And a properly drawn, lawyer drafted will is going to address situations that you probably never even thought of; such as what happens if someone dies before you?
If you don’t have a will, call a lawyer. Soon. I know, some people feel uncomfortable discussing wills; there’s a feeling that talking about this might bring on a death. It won’t. Estate planning will not cause a death; but sometimes people die without a will and that’s a tragedy.