It may surprise you to learn that few people have had their last will and testaments recorded. According to the AARP, only 40% of all Americans have planned for what will be done after they pass away, including drafting a will. If you have a parent who has not done any estate planning, you may want to gently suggest it.

We have already discussed what happens when you are the s will, let us take a moment to consider what happens when someone passes away without a will at all. Laws vary by state, and if the deceased is married. An attorney specializing in estate planning will be able to give you answers for your specific situation, but generally an individual’s estate will be settled in one of these ways.

If your parent is survived by their spouse, then everything they own goes directly to them. This changes if they have any step-children. In this situation up to half the deceased’s estate will go to the surviving spouse, and the remainder will be split between their blood children.

If your parent is single at the time of their passing, then their estate will be distributed equally among their children. What constitutes as “equal” is a qualitative term, however, and can lead to disagreements among family members, and possibly litigation if an agreement can’t be reached. Avoiding this type of conflict is just one reason having a will is so critical.

Domestic partnerships can complicate things further since not every region recognizes them. This can be as broad as a state, or as granular as a county, so speaking with an experienced attorney is highly recommended.

Remember that when someone passes away without a will, their estate will need to be handled separately in each state; meaning property your parent owned in Georgia will have to be settled in Georgia, even if they lived in Florida.

Estate planning can seem like an intimidating prospect, but it doesn’t need to be. Drafting a will is an excellent first step. It is often inexpensive, will eliminate possible future conflict and can be as simple as sitting down with a professional and telling them your wishes.