If you die without having written a will, your estate is called “intestate” and Indiana has very specific rules about how your estate will be distributed. Without a will, your estate might not be distributed according to your desires. It also might not be distributed in a way you believe is best for your spouse or heirs. It’s a one-size-fits-all law meant to treat everyone fairly when there’s a lack of information as to your desires.
You may have some form of estate planning and not even know it. For example, some legal and financial documents require you to state who will inherit the money or property described in the document. These “will substitutes” include documents that require named beneficiaries such as retirement accounts, life insurance policies and annuities, and legal documents like joint tenancy and tenancy-by-the-entirety.
With these items, it is clear who should receive the money or the specific property after your death, and the beneficiary can contact the agencies involved to receive the money or arrange to have the title of the property transferred.
However, it should be clearly stated that these ‘substitutes’ in no way replace a well-drafted will. After all, these ‘subsitutes’ only work with very specific types of property. And if you don’t have a will, all of your other property will be distributed based on the law — and not your wishes.
Examples of estates in intestacy
For example, if you die with a spouse and children and you have no will, the spouse gets half of your estate and your children divvy up the other half. For example, if you have a spouse and four children, your spouse would get half the estate and your four children would divide the remaining half-estate into quarters. If any of the children are minors, your spouse would serve as a trustee.
If you die with a spouse, no children and parents, your spouse would inherit three-quarters of your estate and your parents would get one quarter.
If you die with a spouse, no parents and no children from a prior marriage or from your current marriage, your estate would pass to your spouse.
If your spouse preceded you in death and you have children, your children would inherit your estate in equal proportions.
If you die with no spouse, no children and your parents preceded you in death, your brothers and sisters would inherit your estate. If they also preceded you in death, your nieces and nephews would inherit your siblings’ portions.
If you die after a second marriage and have children from a previous marriage but no children from the current marriage, your spouse would inherit one-half of your personal property and one-quarter of the net worth of your real estate holdings. Your children from the previous marriage would inherit and split evenly one-half of your personal property and title to the real estate after paying your spouse one-quarter of the real estate’s value.
Adopted children are treated as full children and half-siblings are treated as full siblings under Indiana law.