Many people believe that they are so unlikely to die suddenly that they never bother to make a will. If you do die without making a will, the rules of intestacy will determine what happens to your ‘estate’, i.e. any assets you have in addition to any property you have.
If you have any personal preference for who should inherit what you own at death, it is always best to prepare a will. The will can be altered from time to time up to the time you are no longer able to make a sound decision or until you die.
If you die without making a will, then the rules of the country you live, in or the state your property is located in, will determine how your assets and property is distributed.
Generally, there tends to be a lot of similarity between different states and even countries. The following is an example of how intestacy rules operate in Australia.
If you are single, and have no surviving children, your parent(s) will inherit all your assets. If you are single with no surviving parents, your assets will be inherited by any siblings you have in an equal share. If you have no children, parents or siblings, then your estate will be inherited by the surviving relatives of your parents.
If you are single with children, your assets will be distributed evenly between the children.
If you are married, with or without children, generally your assets will all go to your spouse as long as they were owned jointly. Any personally owned assets will be allocated to the children. The rules of intestacy for married partners of which one spouse dies intestate also apply to single sex marriages. In fact, this was seen as one of the reasons why same sex was legalised in Australia and several other countries around the world.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of passing away without making a will arises if you have been cohabiting with someone else but are unmarried. If you die suddenly and have not made a will, your unmarried partner will not have any rights to inheriting your assets. They may be distributed as if you were single, i.e. following the rules already described above.
There are many good reasons for making a will, even if you are not expecting to die anytime soon. Making a will without a lawyer is quite possible. There are legal packs available in libraries, Australia Post offices and online which can guide you through the process. If you find making a will without a lawyer just too difficult to handle, it is easy to get a qualified estates lawyer to draft a will for you.
Making a will before death can avoid a lot of hard work and uncertainty for close relatives and ensure your preferences are retained.