If you die without a will, the state’s probate court will take control of distributing your assets. Every state has very well-established laws to decide who will get your money and real estate. Generally, the list of next-of-kin is as follows: spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents. Without a will to follow, a probate court will go down the list until it reaches a living person and assign that person your entire estate. If there are multiple people within a category (three siblings, for example) the court will divide the money evenly. The court generally will not split money between categories. So, for example, if you have a spouse and two children, your spouse will get the entire estate.
Probate laws keep next-of-kin succession simple. If you want to divide your estate into a more complicated pattern, you need to create a will. A valid will can be as simple as a notarized statement. However, if you have significant assets (over $10,000) you should consult an attorney to help you craft a will. A will crafted by an attorney might help avoid undue taxation, prevent delays in probate court, and assure assets are divided exactly as you want. An estate lawyer will add some necessary information to your will (the name of your preferred executor, for example) making it more functional and efficient. A homemade will could be subject to verification challenges and contestation by someone left out of the will.
The best will is the one you leave behind when you die. No will is perfect, and there is no need to feel hesitant about making an appointment with an attorney. If you don’t have a huge estate to leave behind, it won’t cost much for a good lawyer to create a good will for you and your next-of-kin. If you do have a large estate, you can afford the time to ensure your estate is properly distributed after your death with little taxation and few delays.