You already have an estate plan. In fact, even if you don’t know it, you have already made many estate planning decisions. For example, choosing to have a will or not have a will is an estate plan. How you have titled your property is an estate plan. Naming a beneficiary for your life insurance, retirement plan, or 401(k) is an estate plan. Therefore, you may as well take control of your estate plan by understanding what you are doing.
Our law firm is often asked, “What happens if I die without a will?” The answer is that you will have made very significant (and likely unwise) estate planning decisions. If you die without a will, South Dakota law dictates who gets your property. These laws are known as the laws of intestate succession.
In other words, if you die without a will, the State of South Dakota has written a will for you. For example, the State also determines who gets your property, who will manage your estate, and who will serve as guardian of your minor children. Often, the State’s laws in these areas do not reflect what you would have really wanted.
The persons who take your property under South Dakota’s intestate succession laws are known as your heirs. Depending on the circumstances, these laws may divide your property among your spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or other relatives. Unfortunately, it is likely that your wishes would have been completely different from the estate plan that the State of South Dakota has written for you.
One excuse many people give for not writing a will is that they think wills are only for “rich people.” However, even small estates must go through the probate process. Other people believe that a will is simply too expensive. However, a will that is carefully considered and precisely written actually pays for itself and provides you with peace of mind.