It is a myth that if you die without a will, that all of your assets go to to the State. However a will is important because it allows you to designate the person whom you want to administer your estate. (the executor). More importantly, it allows you to designate the persons to whom you want your property to be transferred upon your death.(after the payment of your bills and obligations) Probate is the proceeding where the will is filed with the court and administered according to your wishes (and state law) after your death. If you die without a will, state law has set forth the order of priority of the persons who would be entitled to your assets upon your death. For example, generally, they first go to the spouse; if the spouse does not survive you, then to your children; if there are no children, then to your parents; if the parents do not survive you, then to your brothers and sisters. However there are exceptions to this in the case where there is separate property (not community property) involved. Separate property is generally property acquired prior to your marriage but it is much more involved and complicated than this simple definition.
A notable case which we recently concluded is:
The Estate of Espy, case number P46369 filed in the 8th Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada. In that case, the decedent had written a will leaving all his assets to his grandchildren and nothing to his wife. After he wrote this will, he reconciled with his wife and in a family law proceeding, he orally in front of a family court judge and on videotape, renounced and revoked his will and indicated that he intended to sign a new will. He died before he ever got to sign the new will and the court held that the oral revocation (even if it was done in a court of law) was not valid according to Nevada law because Nevada law requires that the revocation be done in writing. Thus our client, the deceased’s son from a previous marriage, became the executor of the will and the assets were distributed to the grandchildren and not to the widow.