It’s human nature to avoid thinking about death, so it’s not surprising that more than 70 percent of Americans die without a will each year, according to Catholic Relief Services. A will specifically states your wishes regarding the distribution of your estate. However, if you die intestate, or without a will, the state has the final word. When this occurs, your heirs may inherit your property contrary to your wishes.
When you die in the state of Arizona without having a will, your estate is distributed according to Arizona's laws of intestacy. Even with a valid will, it is not uncommon for the deceased, known as the decedent, to omit some estate property from the document. That portion of the estate not disposed of in the will is distributed pursuant to Arizona’s laws of intestate succession; however, if an heir was specifically excluded from the will, she cannot inherit intestate property.
For a spouse to inherit intestate property under Arizona law, the couple must have a legal marriage. Arizona does not recognize common-law marriages, regardless of how long the couple lived together. But if they came from a state that does recognize common-law marriages, and they fulfilled all the requirements of that state, Arizona may consider them legally married. Arizona is a community-property state, which means that all income earned during the marriage and all property acquired from those earnings are considered community property. A surviving spouse inherits the entire portion of the decedent’s separate property, which is property he acquired separately, such as by a gift or inheritance, and a one-half share of his community property. Any part of the intestate estate not passing to the decedent's surviving spouse passes to the decedent's descendants. An exception exists when the decedent leaves surviving children from a former marriage. In this case, the spouse inherits only one-half of the deceased's separate property and no part of his share of community property.
If there is no surviving spouse, Arizona law first gives the intestate estate to the decedent’s children in equal shares. If a child is born after a parent dies, Arizona law considers that child to be an “after-born heir,” provided the child lives at least 120 hours after birth. A child remains a legal heir even if his parents never legally married. Legally adopted children are treated as heirs of the adopting parents, not of their biological parents.
Other Surviving Heirs
If there is no surviving spouse or children, the intestate property passes to the descendant’s parents equally if both are alive. If no parents are alive, then the estate goes to the descendants of the parents. In the absence of these heirs, the court divides the estate equally among descendants of the paternal and maternal grandparents. Step, or half-blood relatives, inherit intestate property in the same way as full-blood relatives. If there is no qualified blood relative to claim the estate, the entire property will go to the state of Arizona because friends or charitable organizations cannot inherit property without a will.