Arizona Intestacy Laws & Distribution

By Phyllis Greene

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.

Intestate Property

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.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More


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.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
The Definition of an Heir in California Probate



Related articles

What if the Heir Predeceases the Decedent in Texas?

In Texas, if an heir of a person dies before him, what happens to the heir's share of the estate depends on whether the decedent left a will. Heirs commonly include the decedent's children and spouse. Because a will usually leaves instructions for the shares of predeceased heirs, the will's terms determine where the deceased heir's share goes. If the decedent died intestate, or without a valid will, Texas laws decide who inherits the heir's share.

Inheritance Laws & the Order of Precedence

When a person dies without leaving a will, he is said to have died intestate. All states have laws that kick in under these circumstances, and they vary by state. Intestacy laws set out the order of who will inherit the estate of a person who dies without a valid will. The primary residence of the deceased usually determines which state laws apply.

How to Determine Who Is an Heir

Although the terms "heir" and "beneficiary" are often used as though they mean the same thing, they do not. Beneficiaries are parties who inherit according to a will, while heirs inherit based on the rules of descent and distribution. Thus, you cannot determine heirs by looking to a last will and testament because parties named in a will are considered beneficiaries.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

The Inheritance Hierarchy Without a Will in New York State

A person who dies without leaving a will is said to have died “intestate.” New York courts distribute intestate ...

Inheritance Laws in Alaska

In Alaska, as in other states, when a decedent doesn't make a will, his property and assets must be divided according ...

The California Law When the Deceased Has No Will

If a person dies intestate, or without a will, in California, his estate is subject to California's intestacy laws. ...

The Widow's Legal Rights in South Carolina

South Carolina law provides a surviving spouse with the right to inherit from her deceased spouse's estate. An estate ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED