One of the best ways to explain the importance of a will is to discuss the process that an estate goes through when the deceased does not have a will. The first big thing to remember is that if there is no will then the last wishes of the deceased have no priority. Not only is there no way of knowing the last wishes of the deceased, but each state has laws governing what happens to the estate.
In the case of accounts with beneficiaries, those named beneficiaries will get whatever the deceased has designated for them. But when it comes to the rest of the estate, there needs to be an executor put in place to help the process along. Since there is no will to name an executor, each state has a list they use to put an executor in place.
In most states, the surviving spouse or domestic partner is usually named the executor. If there is no surviving spouse, then the children will be named. This is why there are so many legal battles over celebrity estates when there is no will left by the deceased. The probate court names the surviving spouse as executor, and the children tend to disagree with that decision.
When an estate owner dies without a will, the process of distributing estate assets is called intestate succession. Each state has its own rules on how property and assets are distributed, but the vast majority of states tilt towards the surviving spouse. The rules of distribution in intestate succession rely heavily on blood relatives if there is no surviving spouse.
Ex-spouses receive nothing, which is another reason to consider having a will done. If you have a good relationship with your ex-spouse and want to leave them something after you are gone, that will not be possible unless you have a trust, a life insurance policy where they are the beneficiary, or a will.
Intestate succession gets complicated of the deceased was either separated from their spouse, or if the divorce was pending. Once again, every state has its own rules, but the probate court is usually left with making the decision as to whether or not the living spouse can be classified as the surviving spouse.
As we discussed earlier, intestate succession is based on laws and not the final wishes of the deceased. Since there is no documentation on how the deceased wanted to distribute their estate after they passed on, the default is to utilize the laws that are in place. Once the estate has passed through probate, it can be extremely difficult for anyone to challenge the ruling. The ruling of the probate court, in the majority of these cases, is considered final and binding.
If you pass away without a will, then you are giving up your right to decide how your estate is distributed. This means that there is a good chance that the charity you worked so hard for will get nothing from your estate, and the people in your life you wanted to help take care of may get nothing as well. Nothing underlines the importance of a will more than knowing what happens if there is no will in place.