You fail to name a contingent beneficiary

Estate Planner July-August 2006

It may surprise you to learn that it’s impossible to die without an estate plan. If you don’t create your own plan, the state has one for you: If you die without a will or living trust, the laws of intestacy determine who receives your property. This may produce a result you don’t want.

Intestacy laws typically split your wealth between your spouse and children. If you have no spouse or children, your property is distributed to your parents, siblings or other family members according to established priority rules. But if you die leaving no known heirs, your property will be deemed abandoned and your legacy will become the property of the state.

It may surprise you even more that, even if you have a will or living trust, your property can still end up passing as though you were intestate. You may agonize over who will receive your property and craft a detailed estate plan to carry out your wishes, but it will all be for naught if you find yourself heirless.

To avoid this result, name a contingent beneficiary to receive your property in the event your heirs predecease you. The contingent beneficiary can be a charity or charitable foundation, a university, friends or anyone else you choose. Just remember, if you don’t choose, the state will choose for you.