If you die without having made a will, the law (not you) provides for the disposition of your property, and that disposition may not be what you want.
Before an estate is distributed, debts and taxes must be paid. In addition, certain allowances are made to the surviving spouse so that he or she will have sufficient funds to use while the estate is being settled. These include a Homestead Allowance, an Exempt Property Allowance, and a Family Allowance up to a reasonable amount. After these allowances, debts and taxes have been paid, the property is distributed as follows:
- If you leave a spouse, but no children and no parents, your spouse will receive all of your property.
- If you leave a spouse and no children, but you have a surviving parent or parents, your spouse will receive the first $50,000 of your estate plus one-half of your remaining property. Your parent or parents will receive the other half.
- If you leave a spouse and one or more children, and your spouse is the parent of all of the children, your spouse will receive the first $50,000 plus one-half of your remaining property. Your children will receive the other one-half divided equal shares.
- If your spouse is not the parent of all of your children, your spouse will receive one-half of your estate and your children will receive the other one-half in equal shares.
- If you leave no spouse, your children will receive all of your property in equal shares. If you leave no spouse or children, then your grandchildren will receive your property in equal shares. If you have no grandchildren, your parents will receive your property.
- If you leave no spouse, children, grandchildren, or parents, your estate would go to your next of kin, as defined in Nebraska law. The portion of your estate that a relative would receive would depend upon how closely he or she is related to you.
The laws provide only a rigid formula, and make no exceptions for those in unusual need. The failure to make a will could mean hardships and added expense for your immediate family, and benefit some relatives you may not even know.
The laws make no provisions for friends, business associates, charitable institutions, schools or churches, and they treat all types of property the same. There are no special provisions for family heirlooms or jewelry or a family business, for example. They also fail to consider the different needs of different beneficiaries, some of whom may need protection against their own spending habits or the exorbitant demands of a husband or wife. The only way to handle these special situations is through a carefully planned will.