You may think that you don’t need a will or trust if you don’t have a lot of property or assets. However, you need a will, unless you’re willing to have the laws of your state of residence be the deciding factor, according to Press Republican’s article “The Law and You: Important to make a will.”
Do you really want other people making those decisions on your behalf? Would you want the laws of your state making these decisions? Your family will do better, if you have a will and an estate plan.
For example, in New York State, if you don’t have a will, your surviving spouse will receive the first $50,000 plus one half of remaining property. Your children, whether they are minors or adults, will get an equal share of the other half.
If you have a spouse but no children, your spouse will inherit everything. If you have children and no spouse, then the children get everything, divided equally.
If you have no spouse, no children and living parents, then your parents will inherit everything you own.
If your parents are not alive, your siblings will get it all.
Adopted children are treated by the courts the same as biological children, when there is no will. Stepchildren and foster children do not inherit, unless they are specifically named in the will.
If you have been in a long-term relationship with someone and never married, even if they qualify for health care benefits from your employer under the “domestic partner” provision, they are not considered a spouse when it comes to inheritance. At the same time, if you are not legally married and your partner dies, you have no legal right to inherit from your partner’s estate. No matter how long you have been together, how many children you have together, if you are not legally married, you have no inheritance rights.
Check your state’s laws for the rights of “common law marriages;” New York State does not recognize these as a legal union. In very limited cases, New York State has been known to recognize common law marriages from other states where they are legal, but that is the exception and not the rule. There are limits here as well: both parties will have to agree to be married, must represent to others that they are married and may not be married to anyone else.
If you want someone who is not your legal spouse to receive your assets, you need to meet with an estate planning attorney and have a will drawn up that meets the requirements of the laws of your state. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain how your state laws work and what provisions are and are not acceptable in your estate.
An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances.
Reference: Press Republican (Dec. 18, 2018) “The Law and You: Important to make a will”