If you die without a will, any assets you have which are not joint, in a trust or do not name a beneficiary will pass to your heirs at law. If you have a spouse and children, part of those assets will pass to each of them. If you have no spouse and leave children, your assets will go to your children. Typically, your spouse or your children will petition the Surrogate’s Court for Letters of Administration to allow them to administer your estate.
You should still have a will even if you have taken all precautions to avoid probate because:
Special Needs Trust: A Special Needs Trust is a trust created for the benefit of a disabled person under the age of 65 by a parent, grandparent, guardian or by a court. The disabled person’s assets are used to fund the trust. Any funds not used for the needs of the disabled person must first be used to repay the government for any Medicaid benefits received by the disabled person. Any remaining assets must be paid to the estate of the disabled person. These are commonly used in conjunction with settlement of personal injury lawsuits. These are also called First Party Special Needs Trusts and Payback Trusts.
Supplemental Needs Trust: Any person may create a Supplemental Needs Trust for another person with disabilities using the creator’s own assets. It can be created in a will or in a lifetime trust, except that an SNT created for a spouse can only be created in a will. If it is created in the will, it is usually funded with assets of the creator at his or her death. If it is created by a lifetime trust, the creator can transfer assets to the trust while he or she is alive. Because the creator’s assets are used to fund the trust, this is considered a third party SNT and no part of it has to be paid back to the government at the death of the disabled beneficiary if the disabled beneficiary was receiving Medicaid or SSI.