State intestacy laws provide default beneficiaries who receive your assets if you don’t have a will. Typically these are your relatives. If you’re married and have children, they generally inherit all assets. The law assumes this is what most married people would want. But it’s important to have a will if these general rules don’t apply to you or are not what you want.
For example, for single people, or couples who are not married, these default settings may provide that your parents or siblings inherit. A single person may want his significant other, or the mother of his children to inherit. If that wish doesn’t align with the laws of intestacy, you need a will to make it happen. Without a will, your “significant other” may receive no assets if you don’t have a will. If you and your significant other have children, your children may inherit, but your significant likely won’t.
In addition to state laws about who inherits if you don’t have a will, state laws also determine if a will is validly executed, and whether a document such as a health care proxy or power of attorney, contains the proper instructions. Federal law is more impactful when it comes to the tax treatment of trusts, gifts or certain transactions that are part of estate planning. States may impose estate or inheritance taxes as well.