Does a husband need a will to pass his possessions on to his wife or can this happen without a will in an informal manner?

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My dad died and no one ever mentioned any will. I am baffled - could it be that none exists or does a will have to exist?

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It's nearly always easier if there is a will. As has been mentioned, state laws vary. Generally, the spouse gets everything that was held jointly, but some states take into consideration children of a certain age. If there is no will, it often takes a bit longer to go through the legal process. That doesn't mean it won't be okay, but a will is a good idea to make sure that things are clear and streamlined.
Carol
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A will does not have to exist. In many cases, a husband and wife own all of their assets jointly with right of survivorship. That means they both own the house, bank accounts, brokerage accounts together - and if one dies, the other is automatically (and without fanfare) the sole owner of the joint property.

If your dad owned assets outright and passed without a will, the state he lived in has laws which govern how property is passed.
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When you say "no one mentioned it," did you actually ask, or were you just assuming they'd get round to telling you about it eventually?

But no, no one has to make a will - it just makes life so much simpler for families if there is one. The headline figure in the UK is that 2 in 3 people procrastinate for too long (mea culpa!) and never get it done; so every few years the legal profession calls an amnesty and publicises Buy One Get One Free offers and the like in the hope of making us get our act together. Your state will have guidelines, and they're probably online, about what to do in the event of intestacy; and I would expect you'll have blessings to count that you're not in the UK where the state cheerfully helps itself to a large slice of any estate that doesn't have a will attached to it.
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I think it depends on the state. If there r children it may be split between them and wife. A will is your best bet. He leaves his assets to her and she to him. It makes everything so much easier.
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It depends on the state, and even on the structure of his family(ies). Did he have other children besides you and your full siblings? Is your state a Uniform Probate Code state? It also depends on the property. Real estate has a title, and whether your mom now owns it all will be determined by how they held that title, i.e., were there survivorship rights? In many states, the surviving spouse gets any cars regardless of who was on the title. Better to have a will than not, but state law will help you out determine who now owns what, in the absence of a will.
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Aha--! we just did this. My son is a lawyer--he set up our "will" for us. In most states all of the husband's possessions go immediately to the wife unless a will or trust states otherwise. You can google your own state's laws on this, but he was pretty sure about that. A will or trust is really for the survivors of the surviving spouse. I think it's pretty informal. Mother only needed a copy of daddy's death certificate (which I think the mortuary they used got for her). There have been zero issues with this. Children may have been "gifted" certain items by a parent, but this better be well documented, or else, it can become a real problem.
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My father had a will but when the time came no one could find the original. The lawyer had a copy but evidently at least in Oregon only the original counts. Fortunately almost everything was in both parents name and spouse survivorship applied. There was one account that was called Tennents in Common which is so screwy that it's almost never used anymore. Because we had no original will this account was treated as no will existed. Getting this account transferred to my mom took getting a lawyer and submitting papers that it was my fathers intention to give everything to my mom. It all worked out but it took almost a year and a serious chunk of change. My advice to anyone without a will - or even with a will - is to make sure a benefactor is listed on everything. At least in Oregon this allows everything to be transferred to the designated heir without the hassle of probate.
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Oops! I meant make sure a beneficiary is listed not a benefactor. Only on my first cup of coffe this morning !
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Anything not jointly owned would very likely need to be listed in a will.
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Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for all your great answers. I really wasn't expecting so many responses.

In reply to Countrymouse's question, I never asked about a will at the time of my father's death because it never occurred to me. I was very naive at the time, especially about money. Now I am thinking about wills, even planning my own, and it suddenly occurred to me like a bolt out of the blue that I'd never heard a thing about my father having a will.

I feel that asking my mother at this point would make her angry and she would probably not tell me anyway. She realizes or seems to that I am not willing to move in with her and become her untrained, unpaid, overaged nurse and we are going through a passive-aggressive phase.

By the way, Countrymouse, my mother lives in Quebec where they speak Quebec French and the legal system is unlike any other in North America. My mother flatly refuses to speak French though she has lived there for many years, so it makes things complicated. My French is limited though I learn more every day. I don't live in Quebec myself. I would be terribly isolated if I moved in with my mother.
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