That depends on where you live. If you pass away without a will, you’re considered to have died “intestate,” and your assets will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of the state where you reside. These laws vary from place to place, but they typically follow a similar pattern in prioritizing your closest relatives.
Your spouse and children are usually first in line to inherit your assets. If you’re unmarried and without children, your parents or your siblings might be the next to inherit. The chain continues extending outward to more distant relatives if none of the closer ones are alive.
Without a will, you don’t have a say in who receives what, which can sometimes lead to unexpected or undesirable outcomes. For example, a long-estranged relative could receive a portion of your estate, or a partner you were not married to might receive nothing at all, even if you were together for many years.
To ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes, it’s crucial to have a will detailing exactly who should inherit them, which is something a San Jose estate planning attorney can help you with. This is also a key way to potentially minimize disputes among surviving relatives and can help streamline the probate process.