If you do not have a will or other plan (like a living trust) for when you pass away, people may have told you that you should. They are right. Of course, it often makes things easier for those left behind, but it can give you a lot of peace and clarity that could help you now, while you are alive.
And if you die without a will, what would happen? Who would inherit what and what would be the pecking order?
“Intestate succession” decides who is close enough to you
When you die without a will, Georgia law becomes your will, in essence. If there is anything in our state “intestate succession” laws you do not like, you need to create an estate plan, which is like a rule book for what will happen when you are gone.
You may assume your possessions would go to your closest living relatives, but intestate succession is the law that decides who your “closest living relatives” are.
Some property does not have to follow these rules
Some of your property would not pass by intestate possession. Insurance policies, retirement accounts, and the property you co-own with someone such as a spouse already has a name attached. The court will follow that information. You can act now to make sure everything else follows the path you want by, for example, creating a living trust or many other strategies.
Complex lists of complex possibilities
In Georgia, if you die with a spouse and children, they split your assets evenly between them, but your spouse’s share is not less than one-third. So, if you have four children, your spouse gets a third and the kids each get a sixth.
If you die with a spouse but no kids, the spouse gets it all. With kids but no spouse, the kids get it all. With parents but no kids or spouse, the parents get it all. If you have none of the above, your brothers and sisters split it all.
All of this is relatively simple, but things get more complicated quickly.
Grandchildren only get a share if their parent (meaning your child) is dead, in which case they get (split) your child’s share.
People you consider your child get a share, but generally only if Georgia law has already officially declared them legally your child. Legally adopted children and children born from artificial insemination are your children and get a share. Stepchildren and foster children who you did not adopt do not.
Consult an attorney if any of this is unclear or, more likely, if there are even more complicated situations than these. You should know that your questions have been asked before, and there are answers.