When someone dies without a will, they lose the ability to determine who will get their property and who will handle their affairs. Can they also lose all their property to the government? Many of us have heard stories about property ownership passing to the government through an ancient common law practice known as escheat. It does sound as if the state could cheat you out of your property.
Fortunately, out of all the things to worry about when you die without a will, that is not the most critical. Most people who die without a will do not lose their property to the state, federal, or local government unless they owe money to the government for some reason.
What Happens to Your Property Without a Will?
Massachusetts laws of intestate succession specify who will receive your money if you pass away without a will or trust. First, of course, your creditors will be paid off. The remaining funds will be distributed to relatives according to formulas in the General Laws of Massachusetts.
If you leave a spouse behind when you pass, your spouse will usually inherit everything, unless you have children from another relationship. Children and grandchildren are generally next in line, and then parents and extended family members. It doesn’t matter whether you were on good terms with any of the relatives–the law distributes according to your legal relationship. The state will keep looking for aunts, uncles, and cousins to find your next of kin.
Under the ancient laws of escheat, private property used to pass to the government when someone died without legal heirs. However, now the concept of legal heirs has been expanded to encompass so many relatives that it is extremely rare for ownership of the property to pass to the state.
Unclaimed Property in Massachusetts
If property such as money in a bank account, an uncashed check, an insurance policy, or the contents of a safety deposit box are not claimed by heirs and the bank or other holder is not able to locate the heir, that property may be transferred to the Unclaimed Property Division of the Massachusetts State Treasury.
In that case, property ownership does not pass to the state. Instead, the government holds the property in trust for the rightful owner until they claim it. There is no time limit to claim unclaimed property–the state will continue to hold it until it is claimed.
Jordan & White Can Put You in Control
If you are worried about what will happen to your money if you die without a will, we have a simple solution. We can prepare a will to ensure that you remain in control of your property rather than leaving everything to the whims of the Massachusetts government. Just give us a call.