The Effect of Abandonment of Heirs on Intestate Succession

By Beverly Bird

Abandoning an inheritance you receive through intestate succession might have only a minimal effect on the estate, depending on your degree of kinship to the decedent. If you’re the decedent’s spouse, it might result in a windfall to other heirs. However, if you're his niece, it's like to cause only a small ripple in the proceedings.

Usual Order of Succession

Intestate succession occurs when an individual dies without a will. Therefore, he has not expressed his wishes, through a will, regarding how he wants to distribute his assets at his death. In such cases, state law takes over and makes the decision for him. Courts attempt to mimic what logic implies the decedent would have wanted. This means his closest kin receive his assets first. The court doesn't judge the quality of his relationship with these individuals. He may not have had contact with them in years, but they would still inherit under the law. Surviving spouses are usually the first to inherit according to laws of intestate succession, unless a legal separation or divorce decree exists terminating rights of inheritance. If the decedent left any children, they would also probably have first rights to his property. Typically, only if all these individuals predeceased the decedent, or if he wasn't married and had no children, would the court consider more distant relatives for inheritance. The decedent’s parents might inherit, or if they are no longer living, then his siblings, nieces, nephews and grandparents might receive his property and generally in that order. In most states, if any of these individuals abandon their right to inherit, their share passes to the next relative in line according to that state's intestate succession laws.

Percentages of Estate

If you are the decedent’s surviving spouse, it doesn’t necessarily mean you'll receive the entirety of his estate. If he left children, you would probably inherit one-third to one-half of his property, with the balance of his assets going to his children. The balance is usually distributed under a legal concept called “per stirpes.” This means they inherit as a group and share the percentage equally. For example, if the decedent's estate is worth $500,000, you might receive property and assets equaling $250,000, and his children would equally divide assets and property worth $250,000. If he had two children, each of them would receive $125,000 in property and cash assets.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Abandonment of Intestate Share

If you are the surviving spouse, and if you renounce your intestate inheritance, the decedent’s remaining heirs can usually inherit his entire estate. For example, if you were to renounce your share of $250,000, it would revert to your spouse’s children. They would now divide $500,000 of property and assets between them in equal measure, instead of only $250,000. If you are the decedent’s son or daughter, and if you renounce your right to intestate succession, your portion would pass to your own children in most states. It would not usually revert to your siblings. If you have one sibling, and if you are each in line to receive half of $250,000, the $125,000 allocated to you would pass to your children per stirpes.


If you are, for example, the decedent’s only sibling and he left no surviving spouse, children or grandchildren and his parents have predeceased him, it is conceivable that you could inherit his entire estate. Otherwise, you would probably not inherit at all -- the decedent's spouse, children, grandchildren and parents would normally inherit first. Property would only pass to you if they were not alive to receive it. If you abandon the estate, it normally passes to your children. If you have no children, and if the decedent had no other living relatives, his estate escheats in most jurisdictions, i.e. reverts to the state.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Can an Heir Be Deleted From a Property Inheritance?


Related articles

Beneficiaries Without a Will in Tennessee

Technically, when a decedent dies without a will, he doesn’t leave beneficiaries. He leaves heirs -- individuals who are so closely related to him that they inherit his property by state law. However, those heirs become beneficiaries of his estate when the probate process transfers ownership of his assets to them. Tennessee requires probate of estates with or without a will. The greatest difference is that the decedent does not get to choose his beneficiaries if he doesn’t leave a will, specifying to whom he wants his property to pass. Tennessee's intestacy laws decide this for him.

Who Are Heirs to a Last Will & Testament?

The term “heir” is often confused with “beneficiary” when, in fact, definitions of the two differ. Heirs are individuals who inherit from an estate because they are family members of the deceased, not because they were named as a beneficiary in the deceased’s will. In fact, the deceased may not have left a will at all.

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.

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

Related articles

When a Spouse Dies in Kentucky Who Gets the Estate?

Kentucky is somewhat unique in that it maintains a version of dower in its legislation; most states have abolished such ...

What Happens When a Will Goes to Probate?

If you have assets at the time of your death, they must still pass through the probate process so your outstanding ...

Hawaii Intestate Probate Laws

A properly executed will gives you the ability to freely distribute your assets after death. In Hawaii, if you don't ...

What If an Heir Dies?

The impact of an heir’s death on the probate process depends a great deal on whether he is also a beneficiary. An heir ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED