attorney reviewing will

What Happens If I Die Without a Will?

By Chris Tymchuck
Founding Attorney

A will is a valuable legal tool. It is most known for its ability to provide directions as to how a person’s assets should be distributed upon his or her death, but it can be much more. In a will, you can name who you want to act as personal representative of your estate, a position of great responsibility that will oversee the administration of your estate after you pass away. You are also able to name a guardian for your minor children so that you can help ensure that they are properly cared for in the event of your death. With all of these benefits of having a will in place, you may be wondering what happens should you die without a will. We will go ahead and discuss this possibility more here.

What Happens If I Die Without a Will?

When you die without a valid will in place, it is referred to as dying “intestate.” In Minnesota, if you die intestate, the state’s intestate succession laws will apply and your assets will be distributed to your closest surviving relatives. It is important to note that only those assets that would have passed through your will are impacted by the state’s intestate succession laws. There are a variety of important assets, therefore, that will not be subject to these laws of distribution during probate proceedings. For instance, assets held in a living trust will pass outside of probate as will life insurance proceeds and retirement account funds such as those held in an IRA or 401(k) that have named beneficiaries. Those securities that are held in transfer on death accounts as well as payable on death bank accounts will also pass outside of probate. Property held with someone else in joint tenancy will also pass outside of probate to the surviving owner.

For those assets included in the probate estate, Minnesota’s laws on intestate succession will direct how they are distributed. The distribution will depend on who you have among your list of surviving relatives. Should you have children, but no spouse, your children will inherit everything. Should you have a spouse, but no descendants, your spouse will inherit everything. Should you have surviving children and a surviving spouse, and your spouse has no other descendants, then your spouse will inherit everything. Should you not have a surviving spouse or children, but you have surviving parents, your parents will inherit everything. The intestate laws set out a list of who will inherit and goes from your closest relatives and progressing towards more distant relatives. Should you have no surviving relatives, your property will escheat, or pass, to the State of Minnesota.

What all this means is that should you not have a valid will in place, the laws of the state will dictate how your assets are distributed and this will not necessarily be the same as what you would have wanted. You will also have missed the opportunity to select a personal representative of your estate and the probate court will be tasked with this appointment. Should you have surviving minor children and pass away without a valid will in place or a will that does not name a guardian, then guardianship proceedings will need to occur in which the court will appoint a guardian instead.

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About the Author
As a Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate attorney I help build and protect families through the adoption, estate planning, and probate processes. I also have experience working with families on issues related to their small businesses. I know how difficult it is to find time to plan for the future and I am here to help walk you through it.