what to do if your parents die without a will

What do you do if your parents die without a will?

Unless they had no assets and no debts or your family lives in perfect harmony, it’s probably going to get tricky. 

So, what do you do if your parents die without a will? Here are a few things we need to warn you about:

Your parent’s funeral will be confusing

We’re sure that everyone at some point has given some consideration to what they want their funeral to be like. Usually, it’s a thought that creeps into our minds during or after someone else’s funeral. There are always a handful of things that stand out that we like or don’t like about funerals. Maybe the song selection is beautiful — or a disaster. Maybe the minister perfectly sums up a life well lived — or turns the funeral into a church service and rarely mentions the person who has passed. Maybe the funeral is too short or too long or too joyous or too somber. You’ve probably had conversations in passing with your parents but trying to remember exactly what was said – and then arguing with siblings – while you’re grieving can result in a funeral filled with uncertainty and regret. Having a will would provide clarity and allow you to focus on mourning.

Your family will fight – and it will be expensive

Funerals can often bring a family together that haven’t seen each other in months or even years. The celebration of someone’s life can be cathartic and unifying. But if there’s not a clear plan for what happens to the deceased’s estate, you should probably expect the knives to come out. 

Even under the best circumstances, family members need a simple outline for how to distribute the treasures acquired over the course of a lifetime. When relationships are already strained, families will fight — sometimes selfishly, but sometimes because of disagreements about what their loved one would’ve wanted. 

This can happen especially in cases when some siblings are in better financial shape than others. Imagine a scenario with three siblings trying to settle their parent’s estate. Two of the three siblings have worked hard, played by the rules and stayed out of debt. They’d like to split the estate three ways and set up college funds for their parent’s grandchildren. But the third sibling is out of work, deep in debt and expects the estate to solve all of his or her problems.

Or what about when step-parents and step-siblings are involved? Let’s say your father married a woman who had several children prior to the marriage. If there’s no will when your father passes away, it’s not hard to see how a fight could ensue about what everyone is entitled to.  

These fights can be costly in court, ultimately robbing beneficiaries of assets that would’ve been theirs if a will had been written. It’s also especially important in contentious situations that make sure an impartial executor is named. Your parents should select someone who can carry out the will precisely and avoid being swayed by flared tempers and hurt feelings.

Family heirlooms may get sold

What if the only prized possession your mother ever owned was her wedding ring — and it’s now valued at $20,000? If there are four siblings in your family, it makes sense to sell the ring, divide up the profits and everyone walks away with $5,000. Right? 


What if three of your siblings are already married but one is engaged — and now, feeling sentimental, your sister wants to keep your mother’s wedding ring and wear it as her own? What do you do? Do you sell the ring that has now become one of the most important things in the world to your sister? If so, she may never forgive you. If not, how is it fair that she gets an item worth $20,000 while the rest of the siblings get nothing?

This can happen with anything. Homes, cars, jewelry, furniture are all usually one-of-a-kind items that may hold some sort of additional value because of the memories attached to them. Without a will, these items will cause fights and could possibly be sold without the full consent of the family.