Wrongful Death

What Happens If Your Parents Die Without A Will?

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parents die without a will

It can be a touchy subject, but there’s no time like the present to have a talk with your parents about whether or not they have made a will, especially if they have re-married following the death of one parent or a divorce between them.  About a quarter of all adults with assets of more than $500,000.00 don’t have a will, according to PNC Wealth Management. It’s important that your parents know what will happen to their estate when they die.

Parents Die Without A Will?

If your father or mother are married living in West Virginia and die without a will, the surviving spouse gets everything, but only if all surviving children and grandchildren of your mother and father are a product of their relationship with each other.  The surviving spouse gets half of everything if one or more of your deceased parent’s children are not a descendant of the surviving spouse.  In other words, if your mother or father is married to a step-parent, the surviving spouse is entitled to half of the deceased spouse’s estate, no matter how long the parent and step-parent were married.  If your parent does not have a will and lives in a state other than West Virginia, they need to learn about that state’s laws of descent and distribution so they will know what will happen to their estate upon their death.

Obviously, it is in everyone’s best interest if your parents (as well as you) have a will prepared so it is clear as to how, and to whom, their estate is going to be divided.  Because people are living longer, one of your parents (and maybe both) are likely to be married for a second (or more) time.  What I have seen most often is that your parent and step-parent verbally agree as to how the step-children (from both sides) are going to be taken care of after one of them dies.  Unfortunately, many factors arise in life that causes verbal agreements and good intentions not to be carried out.

What Happens to the Estate When there is no Will?

Your step-parent may have promised your mother or father to leave certain items of the estate (i.e. those that may have sentimental value) to you, but unless it’s specified in a will, you may not end up getting them.  Even if your parent prepares a will, one of the most unwise arrangements I have seen a parent make involves leaving everything to the second spouse (i.e. the step-parent) with the expectation of the step-parent leaving the estate property to the step-children after he or she dies.  The only problem with that arrangement is what if the parent and step-parent were only married for a few years and the step-parent and children drift apart?  What if the step-parent remarries – does the step-parent have an obligation to his “new” family?  Does that leave the children of the deceased parent with nothing, which would be contrary to the wishes of the deceased parent?  All of the above examples have occurred without any improper motive or intention of anybody.

The moral of the story is to encourage your parents to have a will prepared, especially if they are re-married so that their wishes can be carried out after their death.

You’ve heard the saying that there are only two things guaranteed in life – death, and taxes.  Talk to your parent.  Remind them how important it is to have a will.  Sorry, there’s not much I can do about taxes!!

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Written by
Tim Miley
Tim Miley is the founder of The Miley Legal Group. After earning his undergraduate degree in finance at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, Tim attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, where he received his Juris Doctorate. Tim is admitted to practice in all courts in West Virginia and is currently a member of the American Association for Justice, the West Virginia American Association for Justice, the West Virginia Bar Association and the Harrison County Bar Association.
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