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What happens to my youngest daughter’s share of my estate if I die before she’s 18?

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Dear Harry,

I’m a divorced single mother with three daughters. The older two are married and live separately from me. The youngest is under 18 and lives with both myself and her father (my ex-husband). I currently do not yet have a will. If I died, would any of my assets go to my ex-husband as he is also a legal guardian of our youngest daughter?

Dear reader,

No, your ex-husband would not get your assets, but he would be able to control your youngest daughter’s share of your estate. If you were to die without a will, your probate assets would pass under the laws of “intestacy.” These are the laws the state has in place to direct the distribution of a decedent’s assets in the absence of a will.

While I don’t know what state you’re in and so can’t check your state’s rules, all such laws direct property to the nearest relatives of the deceased. In your case, this means your daughters. Your ex-husband is no longer a relative and gets no benefit under the intestacy laws of any state.

That said, your ex-husband would take control of your youngest daughter’s one-third share of your estate to manage on her behalf until she reaches the age of majority. That is age 18 in most states, but 19 in Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, or Nebraska, and 21 in the District of Columbia, Indiana, Mississippi, and New York. If you don’t want this to happen, you can execute a will that appoints an individual you choose to serve as trustee for your youngest daughter’s share of your estate until she reaches your state’s age of majority, or an older age if you prefer.

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