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What happens if someone dies without a will?

What happens if you die without a will?
Domenick N. Calabrese, Judge
Connecticut Probate District 22 

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me why he thought he didn’t need a will. Married with three young children, he believed that when he passed away, everything he owned would automatically go to his wife. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this. Unfortunately, things can work out very differently, and it’s important to know in advance some of the intricacies of the law so that you can plan to protect yourself and your family.

Among other things, wills provide a way for people to direct where or to whom their assets will go when they pass away. If someone dies without a will, or the will cannot be found, the laws of the State of Connecticut determine what happens to those assets. The law looks at the degree of relationship the surviving relatives had to the person who passed away to establish what happens to the deceased person’s assets.

To illustrate, let’s look at a fictitious couple – Leo and Marilyn. They’ve been married for 12 years, and neither has a will. Leo passes away, leaving $120,000 in his name.

In the first example, Leo and Marilyn have three children. When Leo passes away, Marilyn would receive $110,000, and the three children would each get an equal share of the remaining $10,000.

In the second example, Leo and Marilyn have two children together, and Leo has another child from a previous marriage. Here, Marilyn
would receive one half of Leo’s estate - $60,000. The rest is split evenly between Leo’s three surviving children.

In a third example, Leo and Marilyn have no children, and neither of Leo’s parents is alive when Leo passes away. In this case, Marilyn would receive all of Leo’s assets - $120,000.

In a fourth example, Leo and Marilyn have no children, but when Leo passes away, his mother is still alive. In this case, Marilyn would receive $115,000, and Leo’s mother would get $5,000.
Adopted children are treated no differently than children born to a parent. Therefore, if any or all of Leo and Marilyn’s children were adopted, it would have no effect on the outcomes I just discussed.

I can provide dozens of other fact patterns, each with a different outcome to show how even seemingly minor differences can impact the way a deceased person’s assets are distributed when they die without a will.

Getting back to my friend’s situation at the beginning of this article, you can see that there are a host of different circumstances that would have an impact on what would happen to his assets were he to pass away. His notion that everything would go to his wife was not correct. This is one of many reasons why having a will is important. Another advantage to having a will is providing for the care of minor children. For example, if both parents were to pass away while one or more of their children were still under the age of 18, a will provides a means to direct who would be the children’s guardian. Some people believe that a child’s godparents would automatically become guardians if both parents were to pass away, but that is not the case. Without a will that names a guardian for children under 18 years old, or if the guardian named in the will was unwilling or unable to serve as guardian, the probate court would determine who a child’s guardian would be.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, nor should it be relied upon, for legal advice. Readers should retain the services of competent legal counsel for advice as to your particular situation.

Copyright ©2009 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved.







  The focus of the probate court is to provide friendly, responsive service to all. 
However, Connecticut law prohibits probate court staff from giving legal advice.
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