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What Happens to Your Assets in Grand Rapids When You Don’t Leave a Will?

FutureYou may not need a Grand Rapids estate planning lawyer to make a will (although that isn’t a wise decision), but what if you have no will at all? No one wants to think about their future demise, but death will be coming for all of us eventually. Without a will, what will become of your assets, your liabilities, and who will be the executor? Will any of your loved ones be left out in the cold?

Every state has its own specific set of laws, but by and large the basic rules are the same from state to state. A qualified Michigan estate planning lawyer is the best resource for uncovering what the laws are here. For someone to inherit intestate, or when there is no will, he or she must be a legal relative. Generally speaking a spouse (or civil partner in some states) inherits it all if there are no children. If there are children, the spouse inherits the largest share, and the rest is divided among the children in a manner dictated by the Michigan Estates and Protected Individuals Code intestacy statute (in a manner, we might add, that is quite counter-intuitive and that not a single client who has ever come into our offices has requested for their own estate plans).

The specifics concerning separated spouses, stepchildren, etc. can make things even more complicated, but there is one constant: no one can profit from a death they caused. If there are allegations or proof of abuse or murder, that person may be prohibited from inheriting at all. This makes sense; not only is abuse wrong, but the government wants to make sure that no one is rewarded for murder.  However, a sibling or other family member who is sitting in prison for killing other people other than the decedent or who was just all-around horrible to the decedent short of death, still would receive an inheritance under the laws of intestacy.

In cases where there are minor children and the other parent is still living, an estate planning lawyer will tell you that what is left behind usually goes solely to the spouse, with the understanding that he or she will use it for the benefit and welfare of him or herself and the children. If there are considerable assets, a will and trust lawyer in Grand Rapids can then help the surviving spouse to create living trusts for the children.

Sometimes, there is no surviving spouse or children. In these cases, distant relatives may be eligible to inherit some or all of the assets left behind. In no case, however, are friends, charities and people not related to the deceased allowed to inherit. These people can only inherit based on the specifics of a will, and with no will, they have no claim.

Some assets are not passed along via a will, and so these items may also have clear beneficiaries listed on the specific documents.

  •  Life insurance policy proceeds
  • Real estate, bank accounts, and other property held in joint tenancy or community property
  • IRA funds, or other retirement plans that name a beneficiary
  • Any funds held in a living trust

Perhaps the strangest thing that probate lawyers in Grand Rapids see is when there are no living family members and no will. When this happens, the assets are paid to the County Treasurer and eventually turned over to the state. If you want to make sure that your property is passed along to a friend or charity, be sure to make a will, because otherwise it goes to Uncle Sam (or whatever the State of Michigan equivalent of Uncle Sam is).

Estate planning is very important, and your best option is to hire an estate planning lawyer who has specific knowledge in this area of law. Each state has laws that change when and how people can inherit if you leave your estate without a will (a/k/a intestate). So, do your loved ones a favor and leave a will to ensure that your estate is divided as you want it to be, without it going back to the government.

If you would like to speak with a professional Grand Rapids estate planning lawyer, please contact Eyestone Law Offices at 800.667.5291 to schedule a free initial consultation today! We provide services throughout West Michigan and have three offices conveniently located in downtown Grandville and Muskegon and near Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids.