Sep 05, 2007

Do You Want Your Closest Relative to Inherit Your Property?

If you die without an estate plan that distributes your property, your property will be distributed according to the laws of your state. Those "intestacy" laws give your property to your closest living relative. But who is that? Each state has come up with its own schema for determining the closest living relative. Much of the time, the laws might work the way you want them to. For example, all states give your estate to your spouse and children first. (The share that each child or spouse receives differs according to number of children and whether or not your spouse is your children's parent. This formula differs from state to state.) Under intestacy laws, more distant relatives, such as your cousins, would only get your estate if you had no other closer living relative. So that makes sense too. But sometimes your state's choice for "closest living relative" might not be the person you want to inherit your estate. For example, what if the state identifies your father as your closest relative, but you haven't had a relationship with him since you were a child? Or what if your closest living relative cannot be trusted with your property because of addiction or mental illness? In these situations, the person who would get your property is surely not the person you would choose to give it to. The bottom line is while intestacy laws will work as an acceptable fall back in some situations, it's best not to let your state decide who is your closest relative. You're better off coming up with your own plan. If you want to know more about the intestacy laws in your state, check out For legal geeks (like us) who love this stuff, the site even has intestacy calculators that tell you how your state will divide your property if you die without an estate plan. It will estimate your federal estate taxes too... pretty cool!

And, if you'd like to create your own custom estate plan, check out Nolo's bestselling Quicken WillMaker Plus.

Betsy Simmons