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What Happens If a Military Officer Dies Without a Will Thumbnail

What Happens If a Military Officer Dies Without a Will

Estate Planning

If you've deployed to a combat zone you likely have a will. But there are some military officers that seem to go through a good portion of their career without one. We all know we need a will, but we may not really understand what happens if we die without a will. The bottom line is that the state will "write" a will for you using state intestacy law. However, laws and details vary greatly from state to state and based on your marital and familial status. Here are six common scenarios of what could happen if you don't have a will. 

Consequences for Those Married With Children

If a married person dies without leaving a will, then investments, property, and accounts that are “jointly owned” go to the co-owner (usually a spouse or child) without going to probate court. However, separately owned property and accounts typically are distributed by the state, which may award one-third to one-half of the assets to a surviving spouse, with the remainder split among the children.

Consequences for Those Married With No Kids or Grandkids

If a married person with no kids dies without a will, some states will give the entire probate estate to the surviving widow or widower (sometimes there may be a cap of about $100,000 in certain states). Other states give one-third to one-half of the deceased's probate estate to the spouse with the rest going to the deceased's parents or siblings. The jointly owned property, financial accounts, investments, and community property goes to the surviving co-owner.

Consequences for Those Single With Children

If someone is unmarried with kids when they pass, all state laws give the deceased's probate assets to surviving children in equal shares. If an adult child of the decedent is dead, their share is split among their children (the decedent’s grandchildren).

Consequences for Those Single With No Kids or Grandkids

For unmarried people with no children, most states will typically favor the person’s parents if they are still alive. If not, many states will divide the probate property among the decedent's siblings (or nephews and nieces if the siblings are no longer alive). If there is no living kin, the state will typically get the probate estate.

Consequences for Unmarried Couples

If you are not married to your partner, dying without a will can devastate your partner financially because intestacy laws only recognize spouses and relatives. Unmarried couples don't inherit their partner's property if one of them dies with no will. Instead, the decedent's property is distributed among relatives and the partner isn't legally entitled to anything.

Consequences for Domestic Partners

Special rules may apply to your domestic partnership. Not all states honor domestic partnerships, so you should check the laws that apply to you and determine how your property would be distributed if you die intestate. Generally, domestic partners may have the same rights as a surviving spouse, but it depends on how the property is owned.

Even if the laws in your state match your wishes in terms of the dispersal of your estate, it's important to carefully weigh your options. Preparing a will helps you take care of loved ones should you pass away. It can also safeguard your property and money from becoming assets of the state. 

Most military officers enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have done everything in your power to protect those you love the most. If you don't have at least a will in place seek the advice of a financial advisor who can help you with estate planning and get the process started.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following blog posts:

Inherit the Family Home? Tax Consequences for Military Officers

Military Finances 101: The Insurance Triangle

What Military Officers Need to Know About TSP and Estate Planning

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