Every Wednesday we offer five legal tips on various areas of Illinois law. Today we are discussing what happens if you die without a will? It’s called dying “intestate,” and Illinois has an intestate law in place that says what happens to your property. The state doesn’t take all your stuff – that’s just a myth. Here’s what really happens.
- Going to court. A case will be opened, called an estate. The judge will appoint an administrator. If there was a will, it would name a person to be in charge of the process, but if there is no will, a judge will appoint someone. Preference often goes to the surviving spouse.
- Assets and debts. At this point, the property of the deceased is accounted for and the debts are settled. This happens regardless of whether someone has a will.
- Distributing the estate. If there were a will, it would dictate who gets what of the deceased’s estate. Without a will, the intestacy laws dictate. In Illinois, the law says that a surviving spouse gets half of the estate and surviving children share the other half. If there are no children, the surviving spouse takes the entire estate. If no spouse, the children share the entire estate. If there is no living spouse and the deceased did not have children, the estate goes to the deceased’s parents and siblings.
- The intestacy laws will not be applied to every asset. Those assets on which you name a beneficiary go directly to that beneficiary. Common examples are retirement benefits, life insurance and jointly owned bank accounts. This is true regardless of whether you have a will.
- If a will is found to be invalid, the estate will be handled as if there was no will. Intestacy laws will be followed. A will can be invalid if it was not witnessed properly, for example, or if it was signed under duress.