Hi Jenny, good question. If you don’t make a will, then your estate will be distributed in accordance with your state’s intestacy laws when you pass away. The intestacy laws tend to distribute a person’s estate in a manner that replicates how an ‘average’ person might distribute their estate had they the choice. It’s helpful in some ways, but unhelpful in others.
As everything is decided in a broad brush manner, it means that you don’t get to give specific items to specific people. So, if you have a piece of jewelry or real estate that you wanted to give to your favourite niece, there’s a real possibility that state intestacy laws will give them to someone else depending on your family position at the time. When a person’s estate is distributed under intestacy laws, the general rule of thumb is that the closer a person is to the deceased, the more they are entitled to. So, spouses and children get the most. After that, the assets are distributed between the next nearest relatives including grandchildren, parents, siblings, and so on. So, as you can see, it makes sense to make a will if you want your assets to go to specific people after you pass away.
On a related note, if you have any minor children, a will is a good way to nominate a guardian for them. It’s not binding, and the children’s other parent will often have the strongest claim to guardianship, but it is very persuasive in helping a court decide who should be their guardian. Of course, if the children’s other parent is not around (for whatever reason), then the clause becomes very relevant. For this reason, it’s common practice to name a guardian in your will….just in case.
We hope this helps. If you have any more questions, you know where to find us. 🙂