What happens if you die without a will?

May 9, 2023, 8:00 AM

Follow @amandadickson...

It’s one of those topics about which people say, “I ought to do that.” Making a will is right up there with cleaning the garage and decluttering the basement. But 54% of Americans said in 2021 that they do not have a will. Die without a will, and your life can be a little more complicated. 

So, what happens if you die without a will?

“A lot of people think that if you die without a will, your estate goes to the state,” KSL NewsRadio legal analyst, Greg Skordas, explained. “That’s not true.”

Utah passed a law, as every state has in some form, that outlines what happens to people who die “intestate” — or without a will. If you die with a will, and that will is deemed valid, you get to decide who gets what. If you die without a will — then the state of Utah decides.

People don’t do wills

“People just don’t do wills,” Skordas said. “A lot of lawyers don’t do wills.”

But why?

In part because “the default the statute outlines is what most people would want anyway,” according to Skordas.

What happens to live-in partners, step-children when you die without a will

There are important exceptions. The statute does not provide for live-in partners or step-children. The statute provides for “spouses,” which is understood to mean married partners. Further, the statute provides only for “descendants.” That term does not include step-children unless you include them specifically in a will.

There are horror stories about couples who have lived together for decades when one partner dies unexpectedly. The children of the partner who passed are legally entitled to his/her 50% share, even if that person wanted their surviving partner to keep the house, car or other parts of the estate.

Not just any will

“There are things that you have to do to have your will determined to be valid,” Skordas explained. “You have to have witnesses. You can’t just write something on a napkin one day that says, ‘If I die, I want this to happen’.”

The importance of putting your wishes in writing and signing it in front of witnesses is to protect your decisions from being challenged after your death. If someone challenges your will, claiming you were incompetent when you wrote it, witnesses become very important.

Skordas explained, “When we draft wills, we have the signer come in and ask them, ‘Do you know what you’re doing? Did you read it over?’ Then, you have two witnesses who will confirm that the signer was competent to do what he was doing.”

If somebody challenges the will, you just bring in the witnesses.

“They’ll say, ‘This is what he said he wanted, and he seemed to know what he was doing’,” Skordas said.

There is an exception to the witness requirement known as a holographic will. This type of will can be valid in Utah if the signature and material portions of the will are in the person’s handwriting.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Business + Economy

pay gap...

Curt Gresseth

Why is the gender pay gap not closing?

The gender pay gap in the U.S. and Utah is not closing. A Utah financial planner details the impact that wage shortfall can have on a women workers over a career.

3 days ago

Henry Barlow said his new plant will save eight million gallons of water a year. (Mark Wetzel, KSL ...


‘We are going to feed American beef to the Americans’: Meat packing plant to open in Richfield

A new cattle processing plant in central Utah is expected to improve the state’s food supply chain.

3 days ago

A white Jeep crashed into a building in Ogden after the driver experienced a medial issue and lost ...

Curt Gresseth

Car crashes driving up cost of auto insurance

Replacement costs, inflation labor shortages, and more car crashes are all pushing up the cost of auto insurance.

4 days ago

a hockey stick shown, utah may get a nhl stadium...

Adam Small

Utah lawmaker asks for $1 billion for an NHL stadium in Salt Lake City

To fund an NHL stadium in Utah, Salt Lake City's sales tax rate would go from 7.75% to 8.25% if the bill is approved.

4 days ago

Image of an AT&T cell tower, as many AT&T customers report they are part of a massive outage....

 Melissa Alonso and Brian Fung, CNN

AT&T customers report a massive outage, disrupting phone service across America

AT&T acknowledged that it has a widespread outage but did not provide a reason for the system failure.

4 days ago

United Airlines aircrafts are parked at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey,...

Ross Levitt, Pete Muntean and Samantha Delouya, CNN

United to resume non-stop service from US to Israel

United Airlines said it will resume flights from the United States to Israel beginning in March.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

What happens if you die without a will?