Your assets may not go to your spouse or children. It depends on the state in which you reside. Not all states are the same.
You may be surprised that many of your relatives, not only your spouse and/or children, may take legal claim to your assets. Typically, probate courts will distribute your assets to your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings and other decedents. Not necessarily in that order. Some states favor the spouse, others the children or only minor children. Community property states divide differently community property vs. individual property.
If you assume that your spouse will “simply” inherit your estate, you could be wrong. For example, in 24 states surviving parents inherit a significant portion of the property value, decreasing the surviving spouse’s inheritance. Further, most states require a minimum six months waiting period prior to distributing the estate to allow creditors time to respond. And probate is not free. It requires legal representation which is usually far more costly than making a will would have been.
With today’s complex family structures, dividing inheritance assets can quickly become contentious and drawn out legal proceedings. It is all too frequent that a surviving spouse is forced to sell their family home in order to divvy up its value to pay relatives their legal share of the estate.
Sadly, research indicates that more than half of Americans do not have a will. According to LexisNexis, the percentage is greater for African Americans and Hispanics. However, if you have an opinion about what happens to your assets after you die, you need to make a will.