Many people put off writing a will. Say you do so for a few decades, thinking you still have time to get your estate plan together. Then, just before you actually get that plan down on paper, you pass away unexpectedly from a heart attack or in a car accident.
Life is unpredictable, and this does happen to many people every year. When it does, it is known as "dying intestate." This refers to the fact that you have no will, you have no estate plan and you have left no real guidance for your heirs.
So, what happens to your assets in a case like this? If you're married, many assets go to your spouse. If you have heirs, the assets get divided by the state and given to these heirs. If you have no heirs, the state may simply get your assets.
No matter how it works out, the thing to remember is that state laws are now in charge of your assets. You have no say in what happens. Your heirs cannot claim you wanted to do anything specific, such as leaving the family home to one person instead of dividing it between all of the heirs.
This can lead to confusion, disagreements and even litigation. Your heirs may be unhappy with how things worked out and find it difficult to agree with one another. The best way to avoid these disputes is to avoid probate entirely and set up an estate plan in advance.
When disputes do happen, though, it's crucial for all involved to understand the legal options that they have.