A will is an important legal document which every person needs to have. Without one, there's no guaranty that, upon your death, your money will go to the people you want, or that your children will be cared for by a guardian of your choosing.
Leave Your Money To The People You Want
If you die without a will, you are deemed to have died "intestate," and state laws require that your money be divided by a set formula and be left to certain people and organizations. Maryland's intestate laws, for example, require that if you die and leave behind a spouse and minor children, your spouse will receive one-half of your probate assets, and your minor children will receive the other one-half. If all of your surviving children are over the age of 18, then your spouse is entitled to the first $15,000 of your estate plus half of the remainder. Your adult children receive the other half of the remainder in equal shares.
If you're married without children, then your spouse receives your estate unless your parents are still alive. If either of your parents is alive, then your spouse receives the first $15,000 of the estate plus one-half of the remainder. Your parents receive the other half of the estate.
If you're not married but have surviving children, then your estate is divided equally between your children. If you have no children, then your estate passes to your parents if they're still alive at the time of your death; if not, then the estate is divided equally between your siblings. If you have no siblings, then your estate is divided among your surviving relatives, like aunts and uncles.
If no surviving relatives can be found, and you had received long-term care benefits from the Maryland Medical Assistance Program, then your estate is left to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. If you had not received any such benefits, then your estate passes to the Board of Education.
Most people have specific ideas about who they wish to leave with their worldly possessions. If you want to leave your estate to a particular person, you'll need a will. Otherwise, your estate will pass under the rules identified above. A will also can appoint the person who will oversee the administration of your estate and its distribution.
For parents with minor children, a will is the best way to make sure that your children are cared for by the person of your choice. In your will, you can also name a person who can manage your assets for your children until they reach an appropriate age. If you (and your partner or spouse) die without a will, the state will appoint someone to raise your children. Make sure you have a will, so that your affairs will be handled the way you want in the event of your death.