From providing for the care of minor children to ensuring that financial and physical property passes easily to chosen beneficiaries, even a simple will can be a powerful legal safeguard.
Unfortunately, almost half of Americans over age 55 have not created a will. When a person dies without a valid will, his or her estate is “intestate”, meaning that Virginia state law will ultimately decide how to distribute any assets.
How does the state divide assets in the absence of a will?
Without a valid will, the state distributes estate assets to surviving family members according to a specific ranking:
- If a spouse survives the deceased, he or she receives the entirety of the estate.
- However, if there is a surviving spouse as well as a child/children from another partner, the state divides the estate between the spouse and all children/descendants of the deceased.
- If there is no surviving spouse, the estate distributes to children and their descendants.
- If there is no surviving spouse or children, the estate passes to the deceased’s surviving parent(s).
- If there are no surviving parents, the estate passes to the deceased’s siblings or their descendants.
However, before distributing assets, the state may also use a portion of assets to pay for funeral costs, reconcile debts and cover administrative costs.
What are the advantages of having a will?
One of the most significant advantages of creating a will is the peace of mind knowing that both financial assets and personal property will pass to the right people or organizations. Even a basic will may also help to minimize estate taxes, avoid a drawn-out probate process and keep control of property among trusted family members or friends.