What Happens Without a Last Will and Testament?
If you fail to make a Last Will and Testament before you die, then your estate will be divided up based on the intestacy laws of the state where you live at the time of your death and the intestacy laws of any other state where you own real estate and/or tangible personal property.
Many times the intestacy laws will give different results from what you would have wanted had you taken the time to make a Last Will. Aside from this, if you do own real estate and/or tangible personal property outside of your home state, then you could end up having two different sets of beneficiaries of your estate.
What Happens When You Don't Own Property Outside of Your Home State
If you only own real estate and tangible personal property in your home state or you don't own any real estate at all, then who will inherit all of your property will be determined by the intestacy laws of your state of residence.
If this situation applies to you, then you need to understand the intestacy laws of your state because these laws vary dramatically from state to state. Read below to see an illustration of the significant differences between the intestacy laws of Florida and Virginia.
What Happens When You Do Own Property in More than One State
If you live in one state and own real estate and/or tangible personal property in a different state, then who will inherit your property will be determined by the intestacy laws of two different states, and the end result may well be two different sets of beneficiaries. And what about property owned in three different states? Three different intestacy laws will apply and you'll possibly end up with three different sets of beneficiaries.
For example, in Florida, if you're survived by a spouse and children from the marriage, then your spouse takes the first $60,000 plus 1/2 of the remaining balance and your children share equally in what's left. But using the same facts in Virginia, your spouse will inherit 100% and your children will receive nothing.
Use the same facts except that your children are from a different spouse. In Florida, your current spouse will inherit 1/2 and your children will share equally in the remaining 1/2, while in Virginia your current spouse will inherit 1/3 and your children will share equally in the remaining 2/3.
What You Should Do
The examples above illustrate what a big difference state intestacy laws can make. The only way to insure that after your death your property will go to the beneficiaries of your choice, when you want them to receive your property, and in the way that you want them to receive it is to make an estate plan.