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.

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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.

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Death Without a Will in Michigan



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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 property according to a statutory scheme of succession and these laws apply only to property located in the state of New York. Laws of other states may apply to real property located outside of New York, even if the decedent had been a legal resident of the state. The intent of New York's intestate succession law is to distribute the estate in the manner in which the decedent likely would have had she left a will; the statutory scheme distributes the decedent's property to the closest surviving relatives first.

North Dakota Inheritance Law

According to North Dakota's Uniform Probate Code, a state resident can explain how he would like his property divided in a last will and testament. However, there are certain guidelines a will maker, known as a testator, must follow to make a valid will. If these guidelines aren't followed, a will may be declared invalid. When this occurs -- or if an individual doesn't make a will at all -- the state laws of intestate succession then govern the division of property.

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, which describes how they want their property distributed after death. Others die without a will -- or "intestate." State laws provide guidance regarding who receives a deceased person's property in the event the deceased person failed to make a last will and testament. Collateral heirs are a specific class of people who are not direct descendants of a person who passed away.

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