Good Question: What Happens If You Don’t Have A Will?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There is something about that dramatic moment where the probate attorney opens the will and breaks the news. So, who needs a will and what happens if you don’t have one?

“Not everybody needs a will,” said probate attorney Norm Bjornnes, who has helped thousands of people set up an estate plan, including this reporter.

“In Minnesota, if you don’t have a will, the State of Minnesota has one for you,” he said, under a procedure called intestacy.

If you’re single and die without a will, your money “will go upstream to your parents, or if your parents are deceased, it will go out to the side to your siblings,” said Bjornnes.

If you’re married and die, your spouse gets everything if you don’t have a will. If you both die, the money goes to the children.

“The children are going to have legal right to the money itself at age 21. A lot of folks don’t want that to happen. They don’t want the kids to have access to too much too soon,” said Bjornnes.

According to Bjornnes, people with children need a will the most, not necessarily because of figuring out how to distribute the money.

“Guardianship with children is a very big deal,” he said.

If you don’t decide where your kids will go upon your death, a court will have to decide.

He also said that state law hasn’t really caught up with the explosion in blended families. It can be challenging without a will to figure out who gets which money, and which kids go where.

According to Minnesota law, you can disinherit your children, but you can’t disinherit your spouse. Basically, you can’t write your spouse out of your will.

So, if you want to leave all your money to charity, you could have trouble.

“That’s almost financially disinheriting your spouse and you can’t do that. So, yes, they can challenge your will,” he said, and the spouse would be likely to win.

Also, going to a lawyer isn’t the only choice for doing a legal will. In fact, if you wrote a will on a napkin in a bar, it might be legal.

“If you happen to have a couple of disinterested third parties with you at the bar, and they witness it, at the bar, with you, and they are both with you, witnessing each other, it would probably be an OK will,” said Bjornnes.

The same is true for wills you download off of the internet or write yourself at home. It’s best to have the signing witnessed by a notary.

“You don’t have to go to court, spend money, and do that, because the document speaks for itself,” he said.

Generally, single people with a small amount of money wouldn’t need to have a will. However, Bjornnes said “we deal a lot with dogs, pets, cats and providing for them.”

Typically, an estate plan includes a will, a power of attorney, and a medical care directive, and Bjornnes said for a single person that package can cost less than $1,000, for couples it’s typically less than $2,000.

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