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What Happens if You Die Without a Will

Most adults in the U.S. do not have a will or a trust. According to a survey by, only 33% of Americans have one of these estate planning documents. If so many people don’t have a will, you might be wondering whether you need one. Your family can just figure out who gets what when you’re gone, right? 

Actually, that’s not how it works if you die without a will. “If you don’t have a plan, the state has one for you,” says Jane Allison Austin, an elder law and estate planning attorney in California. In other words, state laws dictate how property is distributed when someone dies without a will. And a judge can decide who will take care of minor children if both parents die without putting their wishes in writing.

Most people don’t realize this, though. “Misinformation is a big problem,” says Josh Berkley, an estate planning attorney in Kentucky. People have all sorts of ideas about what happens if they die without a will, he says. Knowing how the process actually works will help you understand why you need a will.

Read Josh Berkley’s interview with Carefull here.