What Happens To My Assets If I Die Without a Last Will & Testament?

Discover what happens if one dies without a Last Will and Testament.

By Jacob M. Rappaport, Esq.

Contrary to popular belief, if one dies without a Last Will & Testament (“Intestate”), the Government will not automatically take your assets, rather, the assets will be distributed in accordance with the order listed in the Maryland Intestate statutes. The absolute last resort recipient listed is the County Board of Education (or DHMH in limited circumstances).

However, in order to get to that point, one must die without any blood relatives or step-children.

Generally, here is what happens if one dies without a Last Will and Testament:

If one dies with:

  • descendants but no spouse
  • spouse but no descendants or parents
  • spouse and children who are minors
  • spouse and descendants, but no children who are minors
  • spouse and parents but no descendants
  • parents but no spouse or descendants
  • siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents


  • children inherit 100% of assets
  • spouse inherits 100% of assets
  • spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property
  • children inherit everything else
  • spouse inherits $15,000 worth of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the remaining assets
  • descendants inherit everything else
  • spouse inherits $15,000 worth of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the remaining assets
  • parents inherit everything else
  • parents inherit 100% of assets
  • siblings inherit 100% of assets

Basically, we go up to the great-grandparent level, and then back down, in order to find a blood relative. If there are no such blood relatives, and no step-children of the decedent, then, and only then, will the government receive the estate’s assets.


Estate planning is the process of planning for the disposition of one’s assets upon death. At its most basic level, estate planning consists of three core documents: 1) a last will and testament, 2) a financial power of attorney, and 3) an advanced medical directive.

A will is a document in which you set forth the distribution of your assets. You also appoint a personal representative (a.k.a. executor) who will carry out the terms of your will and manage your estate during that process. An executor’s duties include (but are not limited to) opening the probate estate, selling estate assets, filing the proper court documents, liquidating business interest, distributing personal property and other estate assets, paying the estate’s bills and dealing with the estate’s liabilities.

In a will, you can also set forth burial/cremation plans and select guardians for minor children. You may want to have a spouse’s or child’s share pass into a trust for their benefit, instead of passing to them outright. For the larger estates, a will may also contain tax-planning provisions to maximize the state and federal estate tax exemptions amounts.

A power of attorney is a document appointing an agent to take over your financial life and make financial decisions on your behalf in case of incapacity. For example, if a person who owns a business becomes incapacitated, the agent will be able to run or sell the business and deal with financial institutions on the incapacitated individual’s behalf. It is a necessary document for everyone.

An advanced medical directive is a document where you appoint a health care agent to make health care decisions on your behalf should you be unable, and sets forth end-of-life decisions and organ donation preferences.

One should stay away from using commercial form wills, as they are often misused and can lead to unintended results. Remember, the cost is only an issue in the absence of value! My goal is to ensure that you have the perfect estate plan tailored to your specific situation!

Note: This article is provided for informational purposes only, and no one should rely upon the information contained herein as constituting legal advice. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between any attorney and any other person, group or entity. No representations or warranties whatsoever, express or implied, are given as to the accuracy or applicability of the information contained herein. The information may be modified or rendered incorrect by future legislative or judicial developments and may not be applicable to any individual reader’s facts and circumstances. It is strongly suggested that you seek individual counsel to review your specific needs and goals.


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