My Mother Died & Has No Will; What Do I Do Next?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

My Mother Died & Has No Will; What Do I Do Next?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

If your mother died without a will, then she died intestate. The state where she lived will handle your mother's estate and distribute her assets. In order to do this, the state will look to the intestate succession laws.

Concerned man and woman sitting at table reading paperwork

Although intestate laws vary by state, many states follow the Uniform Probate Code (UPC), a uniform act drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) that governs will and estates. Under the UPC, a deceased person's property passes to close relatives, such as parents, spouses, and children, as opposed to distant relatives. If no close relatives are alive, the property passes to either distant relatives or the state.

1. Appoint an Executor.

When there's no will, there's no named executor. An executor is a person designated by the testator to carry out the terms of the will. When a person dies intestate, the probate court designates an executor, such as the surviving spouse or adult children. Because the intestacy laws vary from state to state, you should review your state laws on intestate succession.

2. Decide Who Inherits Property.

State law governs who inherits property when someone dies intestate. Typically, spouses, registered domestic partners, parents, children, and other blood relatives inherit under succession laws. Distant relatives may inherit property, but only when close relatives don't exist.

If your mother was single, then you and your siblings as well as any surviving parents (if only one parent died), will receive your mother's assets. If no parents are alive, then the estate passes in equal shares to you and your siblings.

If your mother was single with children, then the estate would pass in equal shares to the children. If one or more of her children has died, then those shares would pass to those siblings' children—your niece(s) and nephew(s).

If your mother had a spouse at the time of her death, then the distribution of her estate depends upon the ownership and titling of her assets. Generally, the majority of her assets would pass to her surviving spouse. Children or grandchildren may inherit a smaller share. If her children are not the children of that spouse (i.e., step-children to the spouse), then half of her assets would transfer to her spouse and the other half would transfer in equal shares to her children.

Because succession laws vary by state, you must check your applicable laws to determine who may receive your mother's assets.

3. Meet Survivorship Requirements.

Depending on state laws, heirs can inherit property if they live for a certain period of time after the decedent's death. For example, a spouse must outlive their significant other by five days to inherit any property belonging to the decedent.

If heirs pass away at the same time as the decedent, then state law governs who survived the other. Many states follow the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act, which governs inheritance when people die concurrently, such as in a car accident. If heirs pass away and it's not a simultaneous event, the heirs cannot inherit any assets under the succession laws, unless that heir has children. In some instances, the children of a deceased heir can inherit the assets of the decedent.

Determining who can inherit property from your mother upon her death is complicated. As you're handling your mother's estate, you may have questions about your state's requirements on succession. You should consult with an attorney or use an online service provider to assist you in answering any questions you may have. By receiving additional guidance, you can gain confidence knowing that you're settling your mother's estate with her original intentions in mind.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.