Actress Dawn Wells of Gilligan’s Island fame tragically passed away on December 30, 2020, of causes related to COVID-19. She was 82 years old.

Wells is most famously known for playing Mary Ann on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island. The show spawned multiple TV movie spin-offs and other TV guest roles and films for Dawn and her co-stars. In addition to her extensive career in TV, film, and stage, Dawn’s real-life roles included a conservationist, teacher, and motivational speaker.

Unfortunately, Dawn’s sunset years weren’t rosy. She had financial troubles due to an unexpected accident as well as problems with the IRS. Some of her fans may wonder whether she had an estate plan prepared before her death. Let’s look at her situation and what could happen if you have no will prepared before your death.

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Dawn Wells Shares a Cautionary Financial Tale 

In September 2018, Dawn Wells reportedly suffered an unexpected accident and needed “life-threatening” surgery. News of her condition was made public by a friend who started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for her mounting medical bills as well as penalties she purportedly owed the IRS.

“Dawn is living one of the greatest fears we Americans have, an uncertain future,” Dugg Kirkpatrick wrote on the GoFundMe page. The campaign raised over $200,000 for Wells, who publicly acknowledged her need on social media and accepted the donations.

“A dear, dear friend of mine with a big heart was trying to help me with some common issues we all understand and some may face,” Wells wrote on her official Facebook page. “I don’t know how this happened. I thought I was taking all the proper steps to ensure my golden years. Now, here I am, no family, no husband, no kids and no money. I’m grateful that God has given me so many friends and fans who care, or it would all be too …overwhelming.”

Wells’ financial woes because of a medical emergency are not uncommon in America, where healthcare costs only continue to grow as you get older. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, some 66% of Americans say problems with their medical bills came from one-time sudden events rather than treatment for chronic issues.

Considering her financial state before her passing, it’s likely that Wells didn’t leave a will. By her admission, she had no husband, children, or family, so it is unclear who will inherit her estate. Wells was also not alone on this issue—millions of Americans either don’t have an estate plan or put off making one until it’s too late.

A 2017 survey by revealed that only 42 percent of U.S. adults have estate planning documents such as a will or living trust. Millennials (ages 18 to 36) in particular are unprepared because young adults don’t expect anything bad will happen to them. 

What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

If you die without a will in California, a probate court will determine your heirs and distribute your estate to them based on intestate succession laws. Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased person’s estate. Eligible heirs can include a surviving spouse, children, siblings, parents, and other distant relatives. You can find out more about how intestate succession laws work here.

If you have no surviving spouse, children, or relatives, your property may “escheat” to the state. That means the state will claim your estate after some time as part of a probate decision. An escheated estate may later be reclaimed if a lawful heir turns up, but there is an expiration date after which that’s no longer allowed.

Quick Start Your Estate Plan in California 

Even thinking of making an estate plan is uncomfortable for a lot of people because let’s face it—making end-of-life plans is depressing. No one wants to think about their impending death. But it’s the sensible thing to do to set up your family financially and save them needless emotional stress.

Estate planning in California isn’t as complicated or expensive as you might think. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to hire an expensive attorney to draft a will for you. A People’s Choice can provide you with a legal document assistant who will prepare all the required legal paperwork.

We don’t just help the living prepare their estate plans; you can also contact us if your loved one died without leaving a will. We can provide materials on how to administer the estate and prepare the necessary documentation on your behalf. Call us today at 800-747-2780 to get started.

Get help with your California Estate Planning today!

A People’s Choice can save you hundreds of dollars by preparing your estate planning documents instead of an expensive attorney!