What Happens When a Person Dies Without a Will?
If you want to make sure that your property is distributed according to your personal wishes at the time of your death, then it is important to have a properly drafted and executed will. When a person does not have a will at the time of their deat, then the person's property is distributed according to the state’s default laws of distribution, known as intestacy laws.
There are many circumstances under which a person would not have a valid will at the time of his or her death. A person may die young and unexpectedly or the person may simply have procrastinated and never got around to the unpleasant, yet important, task of drafting a will. Or, the person may have drafted a will that is later found to be invalid and unenforceable.
In those situations where a person does not have a valid will at the time of his or her death, his or her property will be distributed according to state intestacy laws. Each state has its own intestacy laws. While all of the states have the primary objective of trying to distribute a decedent’s estate to his or her next of kin, the states interpret that objective differently and distribute property to different relatives in different percentages.
The distribution of property in an intestate estate depends both on the state in which the estate is probated and the relatives that have survived the decedent. Most, if not all, states will provide a surviving spouse with a percentage of the estate. If the decedent had living children then they are also likely to receive a percentage of the estate. That percentage may be higher if the children are the issue of the decedent but not the surviving spouse. Some states also allow surviving parents to receive a portion of the estate.
If the decedent dies without a spouse or children then the estate often goes to the decedent’s parents if they are still living. If they are not living then the property goes to the siblings of the decedent, if any. If there are no siblings then the property could go to surviving grandparents or to the issue of the grandparents (usually the aunts, uncles or cousins of the decedent.)
If there are no living relatives who can be located to inherit the estate then the proceeds of the estate usually revert to the state in which the decedent’s estate was probated.
It is important to note that the laws of intestacy only apply to probate property that is part of the decedent’s estate. Any property that was held jointly such as property, bank accounts or brokerage accounts is not part of the probate estate. Likewise, life insurance proceeds are not part of the estate and instead go to the stated beneficiary. Intestacy laws are not perfect. They may not distribute your property according to your wishes. However, they do their best to distribute property fairly and in accordance with the priority of family relationships in the absence of valid written directives from the decedent.
Additional Estate Planning Articles
- How to Obtain a Death Ceritifcate
- What Is Estate Planning?
- Protect Your Children With Your Last Will and Testament
- What Sorts Of Instructions Are Made As Part Of An Estate Plan?
- Naming a Guardian for Your Children
- What are Some Typical Estate Planning Documents?
- Establishing a Trust for Your Kids
- When Should I Start My Estate Plan?
- Estate Planning Tools for Wealth Transfer
- How Can I Reduce My Estate Tax Upon My Death?
- Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney & Health Care Directives: What Is the Difference?
- What Is A Will?
- Living Trusts
- What Is A Trust?
- Estate Taxes: How to Legally Minimize Your Obligation
- What Is The Difference Between A Will And A Trust?
- The Uniform Transfers to Minors Act: An Overview
- What Happens If A Person Dies Without A Will?
- Naming Children as Life Insurance Beneficiaries
- What Is A Durable Power Of Attorney For Health Care?
- When to Update Your Will
- What Is An Advance Directive?
- Is a Will's Validity Affected When You Move Out of State?
- Is There Any Way To Avoid Probate?
- How to Make Medical Decisions When You are Unconscious
- Does It Make Sense To Use An Attorney? Is It Expensive?
- What rights do I have in planning a funeral?
- What About Books On Estate Planning?
- How to Prove and Recover Damages for Trust Mismanagement
- How to Decide if You Need a Trust and Estates Attorney
- What Is Fraudulent Conveyance and How Can I Avoid it?
- What is a variable annuity, and how does it work for estate planning purposes?
- What are the advantages of purchasing an annuity for estate planning purposes?
- What are the differences between annuities, IRAs, and 401(k) plans, and how do they fit into my estate plan?
- What are the tax advantages and/or implications of annuities?
- What are the potential pitfalls of annuities?
- Family Limited Partnerships
- The 2010 Break in the Federal Estate Tax
- What the Estate Tax Means to Your Estate Planning
- What Is An Estate Tax?
Search LawInfo's Estate Planning Resources
State Estate Planning Articles
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina