When Your Estate is Big: Why Having a Will Matters

When you have a large estate that includes significant assets, writing a will is a necessary piece of your overall estate planning. If you die without a will, how your assets are given out, and the fighting that can ensue among your family members, can become a logistical nightmare. When you don't have a will in place to give away your assets to heirs that you assign, your estate can end up stuck in probate court for years while potential heirs wait for their inheritance.

How an Estate Without a Will Is Handled

With no will written, no one is assigned as the executor of your estate. If there is no one to fill the role of executor, one will be assigned by the probate court. Once an executor is working on your estate, they have the responsibility of going through all of your accounts, paperwork, belongings, and more to establish what the estate consists of and how it all will be disbursed among the heirs.

Assets That Won't Go Through a Will

When your estate has many assets, it's important to understand what assets don't go through probate court and are directly given to the named beneficiary instead. Any asset with a named beneficiary at the time of death will go directly to that person. Jointly held bank accounts, property, and life insurance benefits don't go through a will. After all assets with a named beneficiary are determined, the rest of the assets of the estate are sold, turned into cash, and added to a final total that is disbursed based on the laws of intestate succession.

Intestate Succession Laws are Different State to State

Each estate has specific laws that outline who will receive the money from an estate if the deceased leaves no will. A spouse receives 100 percent of the estate assets. Sometimes, if there is a spouse and children, the spouse receives the majority of the share, while the children each receive a percentage. If there are children but no spouse, the children usually are the next to inherit the estate; all would receive an equal portion of the estate.

If you have a large estate but don't have children, living parents, siblings, or a spouse when you die, the disbursement of your assets can get complicated. Your more distant relatives will be able to make a claim to your estate when there are no clear heirs, thereby watering down how much each person will receive. When your heirs can't be established, it will be up to the state to determine the heirs of your estate, if there are any at all.

When you are leaving a lot of money at the time of your death, you can decide now to leave your money to a specific charity, a friend, or an organization you have always supported. If you die without a will, and heirs are hard to find, the state may simply take over your estate and use the money as they see fit. Learn more about will disputes.