Death Without Wills

By A.L. Kennedy

A person who dies without a will or other means for passing his property to his beneficiaries is said to die intestate. A person may also die intestate if he makes a will, but the entire will is found to be invalid. When a person dies intestate, state law determines what will happen to his property.

Affected Property

Intestacy laws cover any assets that would ordinarily be handled by a probate court, such as bank accounts, vehicles, real estate and personal property, according to Findlaw. Assets that pass outside probate, like joint bank accounts, real estate held in joint tenancy and life insurance proceeds, are not affected by a state's intestacy laws.


The people who can receive your property if you die intestate are specified in your state's laws. In most states, the people who can receive an intestate estate must be close relatives of the deceased person, including the deceased person's spouse, children, parents or siblings. Some states allow grandparents and aunts or uncles to take property by intestacy. If none of these people are alive, the state receives your property. No state allows people who are not related to you by blood, marriage or adoption to receive your property by intestacy, no matter how close you were in life, according to FindLaw.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan


Your will gives you the opportunity to name your executor, or the person who will take care of your estate and follow your will's instructions when you die. If you die without a will, the court will appoint an executor to pay your last bills and distribute your property according to state law. The executor will usually be either a relative or one of your creditors.


The state can authorize the executor to liquidate most of your estate's assets in order to pay its bills, according to FindLaw. However, in states that have adopted the Uniform Probate Code, not all of your assets can be taken to pay creditors, even if you die without a will. The Uniform Probate Code has "family protections" which allow family members to keep certain amounts of property, including the family home, certain exempt property and assets to pay for the family's basic needs.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
North Dakota Inheritance Law



Related articles

Dying Without a Will in North Carolina

In North Carolina, as in other states, dying without a will is known as dying intestate. It means your assets and liabilities are handled according to the state's laws of intestate succession. This is a complex set of rules, enforced by the probate court, that determines who the heirs of your estate are and the portion of the estate to which they are entitled.

The Definition of an Heir in California Probate

In California, the term "heir" is defined in the state's probate code. Heirs are people who are entitled to inherit a deceased person's property. California, like other states, has laws that explain who may receive an inheritance when a person dies without a last will and testament. These laws are called "laws of intestate succession," and when a person dies without a will, it is referred to as dying "intestate."

What Happens to Assets With No Next of Kin?

When someone dies without clear heirs or beneficiaries, it may be difficult for the court to correctly distribute the estate’s assets. State laws establish which relatives can share in the deceased's assets and what happens to those assets when no relatives are available to inherit. The laws that govern this process vary from state to state, though many states’ laws are similar.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

Who Inherits if There's No Will in Connecticut?

Your wishes for property distribution after you die in Connecticut may not be honored if you don't leave a valid will ...

How Does Real Estate Pass Through Intestacy?

When someone dies but fails to leave a will, laws of intestate succession for the state where the real estate is ...

What Is a Collateral Heir?

Heirs are individuals who are entitled to inherit a deceased person's property. Many people die having written a will, ...

The Rules of Inheritance

The rules of inheritance are set according to state law. Each state has its own statutes that explain which relatives ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED