What Happens to My Stuff When I Die?

What Happens to My Stuff When I Die?

There are three ways your stuff can be disbursed when you die:

  1. If you die with a will, your stuff will be disbursed based on your the wishes you have detailed on paper. Someone you trust and name in the will is usually appointed by the Court to handle giving your money and things to the people you want them to go to.
  2. If you die without a will, the law takes over and determines who gets your stuff. This is called intestacy. If you don’t have a will, someone (usually the person with the most to gain) will ask the Court to make them the administrator of the estate. If you don’t have a will, you have no way to control who gets what part of your estate.
  3. If you establish the appropriate trust or have accounts that allow you to name a death beneficiary, you can bypass the courts altogether by identifying ahead of time to is to inherit accounts when you die. You can also accomplish this through joint ownership of assets such as cars, houses, or bank accounts. The more things you have that are transferred outside of the court system, the quicker and easier your estate will be for your heirs.


Your estate is “probated” when you have a will. Usually this is accomplished by the executor who you have named in the will. He will ask the court to be appointed as the executor and to be given documentation allowing him to act as the representative of the state. Once appointed as executor, this person is tasked with finding all of your property and disbursing it based on the directions you set out in your will. It is important to pick someone you trust for this job so things go smoothly. If you only have one heir, that person might make a good executive. On the other hand, if you have a number of heirs, it may be prudent to select a friend or someone else not set to inherit as the executor to avoid disputes among the family. Most executors hire a probate attorney help with the details unless the estate is small and easily managed.


Estate administration happens when you die without a will, or “intestate”. The court appoints an administrator (usually the person who will take the most under intestate succession) to manage the estate. The administrator is tasked with finding all of the inheritable property, cataloging it, and disbursing it among the intestate heirs living at the time of your death. How your property is disbursed is controlled by statute. Your wishes are not considered if you die without a will. Heirs often hire an attorney to petition the Court to appoint an administrator so the estate can disburse each inheritance.


If you want to make life easy for your heirs when you pass away, the best thing you can do for them is help them avoid dealing with your estate at all. You can do this through trusts and through the judicious use of death beneficiaries and joint property. Most of your financial accounts provide for a death beneficiary. If you set up beneficiaries, the people you choose will usually receive the benefit when they provide proof of your death to the company. The courts do not get involved in these types of transfers unless there is a problem. You can accomplish similar things with joint bank accounts, real estate held jointly, and cars with both names on the title. You can also set up trusts to keep your assets out of probate. If interested, this is typically something you would want to hire an attorney to help you set up.