If you die without a will, that is called dying “intestate.” If you die with a will, it is called dying “testate.”
If you have no will, the law of the state where you live will then determine who inherits from you. Although it is universal that your spouse and children inherit, what they inherit can differ from state to state. It is not a good assumption to think that all your property will automatically go to your spouse, as some people think.
In Rhode Island, adopted children inherit from their biological and adoptive parents.
Illegitimate children stand in the same shoes as your legitimate children as to inheritance.
Some people believe that they have no “heirs,” but that is a very unlikely situation, and a genealogist may be required to determine who your heirs are.
Making a will gives you the opportunity to name your beneficiaries and to designate what you are leaving to each of them. It is best to name in the will not only who you choose as beneficiaries, but also to identify any heirs you choose to omit, as this is evidence that you make a conscious choice to exclude them should they contest your will. All of your heirs must be notified that your will is being probated, and have standing to contest it. Additionally, a spouse may have the right to disclaim an inheritance, and elect instead to take his or her statutory share, if the statutory share is greater than what you have designated to leave to him or her. The statutory share is what he or she would have inherited had you died intestate.
However, some property is not affected by the provisions of your will, such as jointly held property which will pass to the surviving joint owner, or funds such as an IRA, if you have designated a beneficiary to inherit it upon your death, within the IRA.
In any event, it is beneficial to take stock of your assets and how they are owned, and to consider who you wish to leave them to, and to take proactive steps to put these provisions in place by having an attorney draw up your will. Different states have different will requirements and these formalities are paramount in ensuring that your will is enforceable. It is not recommended that a non-attorney write his or her own will.