Regardless of how much property a person owns, it is always a good idea to draft a will and create an estate plan. Without a plan in place, families are often burdened with heartache and uncertainty when the time comes to distribute the property of a decedent’s estate.
In the absence of a document that clarifies the deceased person’s wishes, Georgia state law will dictate how assets and debts are distributed. Because every family is unique, the state’s guidelines for estate distribution rarely align with the wishes of the deceased or the family.
We have provided some information here regarding how assets are distributed when a person dies without an estate plan — so that you can decide what your next steps should be. If you have questions about the probate process or probate litigation, our overview of probate issues is a helpful resource.
How property is distributed in the absence of a will
When a person passes without a last will and testament, that person is said to have died “intestate.” Here is an overview of what happens in Georgia if you pass away without any sort of estate plan:
- If your spouse survives and you don’t have any children, your spouse will inherit everything, including any debts you may have.
- If you have a spouse and children, they will inherit equal shares of your estate. The only exception is that your spouse can’t inherit less than one-third of your estate, so if you have a lot of children your spouse will inherit one-third and your children will split the rest.
- If you don’t have a spouse but you have children, your children will divide your inheritance.
- If you don’t have a spouse or children, then your estate will pass to your parents equally.
- Without those relatives, your estate will pass to your siblings and their children, with your siblings receiving equal shares. If your siblings predecease you, their children will share the portion that your sibling would have received.
- After that, the state will look to see if you have any living grandparents. If so, they will inherit your assets.
- If you don’t have any surviving grandparents, then any living aunts and uncles may inherit. If they pass away before you do, their children may split the portion of your estate that would have been inherited by the aunt or uncle.
- If, for whatever reason, you don’t have any family members at the time of death, then your entire estate passes to the state of Georgia.
So, if you want a beloved niece or nephew to inherit something, or if you want to make sure that an estranged child or parent doesn’t receive a significant portion of your estate, or if you want any other specific instructions included in your estate plan, then you need to draft a will to ensure that your estate stays out of state-imposed succession, known as intestate succession.
Our estate planning overview offers more information about creating sound, forward-thinking estate plans.