What Happens When a Person Dies Without a Will?

By Chris Blank

If you die without a will or other means of specifying how to distribute your estate, the law states that you have died "intestate." As a result, the distribution of your property may or may not be in line with your wishes. Consult with a legal professional who specializes in wills and estates about specific questions pertaining to your circumstances.

If you die without a will or other means of specifying how to distribute your estate, the law states that you have died "intestate." As a result, the distribution of your property may or may not be in line with your wishes. Consult with a legal professional who specializes in wills and estates about specific questions pertaining to your circumstances.

Dying Intestate

Within a well drafted will, you will state how you want your estate distributed and who will act as executor(s) to administer the distribution of your estate and payment of your creditors. When you die without a valid will, the state determines how your assets will be distributed and appoints an administrator who takes on much the same duties as a named executor. Laws on distribution and administrator appointments vary by state.

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Division of Property

Many states have a predetermined system to distribute the property of a person who dies intestate, known as intestate succession. In many states, intestate succession determines that a living spouse inherits the bulk of the property, along with any living children. If the intestate person is not married and has no children, the parents often inherit the estate. Siblings may also inherit part of the estate. In many cases, grandchildren only inherit property from the estate if their parents are dead. Stepchildren, nieces and nephews or other relatives often inherit nothing.

Administration of Final Affairs

Courts often prefer to appoint family members to perform the role of administrator, however, the procedure involves meeting specified requirements that may complicate matters. In addition, different family members may have disputes about who should serve as administrator; such disputes may delay the distribution of the estate.

Community Property

Community property is defined as property or assets accumulated during a marriage by members of a married couple, with exceptions for individual inheritances, gifts and property owned separately by each spouse before the marriage. Community property laws in nine states -- Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin -- impact the process of intestate succession. In these states, the spouse legally owns half of of the marital property; only the remaining half is subject to distribution under intestate succession rules.

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Inheritance Laws & the Order of Precedence

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Arizona Intestacy Laws & Distribution

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.

Probate Laws for No Will in the State of Maine

Maine probate courts oversee the distribution of decedents' estates to their heirs. When a person dies without a will, thus leaving an intestate estate, Maine probate statutes govern how the intestate estate should be divided. Probate judges appoint personal representatives, also called administrators, to distribute intestate estates to heirs. Generally, an administrator must gather estate assets, pay estate debts and convey the net assets to heirs within approximately one year of appointment.

Sibling Inheritance Law in Georgia

A properly executed will is an important step in ensuring that your property and possessions will pass to your siblings. In Georgia, certain procedures must be followed to create a valid will, and the amount transferred can vary based on the nature of the relationship between the person drafting the will and those inheriting under it. If no valid will is in existence at the time of death, the decedent's property will still pass to his heirs based on Georgia's intestate laws, which organize relatives based on their proximity to the decedent's immediate family.

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