If you don't make a will, then what?
In West Virginia, that all depends on your family situation. Here are the most typical situations and who gets what:
* If you have had one or more children with your current spouse only, then your spouse will inherit 100% of your estate.
* If you have had no children (or none survive you), then 100% goes to your spouse.
* If you have had children with your spouse and your spouse also has children from a previous marriage, then your children will inherit 40 percent of your estate and your spouse will receive 60 percent.
* If you have had children in your current marriage and during previous marriage(s), 50 percent will be inherited by all of your children and 50 percent by your current spouse.
If you have no living spouse, then your estate will be divided among your descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.). If you have none, then it will be inherited by (in order of priority) (1) your parents, (2) your brothers and sisters (3) nephews and nieces, (4) grandparents or their descendants, or (5) the State of West Virginia. If, for example, your parents are living, then no one in the later groups will receive anything.
That's the basic structure of our intestacy (meaning, without a will) law. What's left out? No special provisions to cover unique situations, for one. For another, gifts to nonprofit organizations and other important ways to lower estate taxes, such as the by-pass trust.
For many, intestacy can be the most expensive version of estate "planning."
So, making a will to transfer your hard-earned assets to those who can best use them can also be a way to protect the assets from taxes one final time.
That's good planning.
Deborah Miller, J.D. is the Senior Director of Planned Giving for the West Virginia University Foundation