Who Inherits When Someone Dies?

By Marilyn Lindblad

One of the questions that inevitably arises when someone dies is the question of what will happen to the property she owned when she was alive. This is especially true when a wealthy person passes away, leaving behind a fortune that would surely change the life of whomever stands to inherit it. Who inherits when someone dies depends on whether the deceased had a last will and testament, as well the deceased's state of residence.

When There's a Will

Many people make a last will and testament before they die. A will gives an individual control over what happens to her money when she dies. In a will, an individual can bequeath individual items of personal property, such as jewelry and art, or bank accounts, real estate, stock and other assets. After her death, the local probate court administers her will, and the executor or personal representative named in the will ensures that her property is distributed according to her wishes.

Without a Will

When someone dies without having a will, the law determines who gets her property. Dying without a will is referred to as dying "intestate." When this is the case, a law called the "order of intestate succession" takes effect. Each state has its own order of succession. In New York, for example, a woman's surviving spouse, if she has one, inherits her entire estate unless she left children or grandchildren. If there are children, the surviving spouse gets $50,000 off the top of the estate plus one-half of whatever is left. If there is no surviving spouse, in New York the deceased's property will go to her children or, if no children survive her, to her parents. If there are no surviving children ore parents, her property goes to her brothers and sisters. If she has none, then her grandparents inherit, or her aunts and uncles, if she has no grandparents. If she has no aunts or uncles, her property goes to her grandparents' grandchildren or great grandchildren. If the deceased has no survivors in the order of succession, the State of New York gets her property.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Paying the Creditors

Before the property of the deceased is distributed, her estate must pay her outstanding debts, including the cost of her burial and the cost of her final illness, if any. Individuals or businesses to which she owed money can file claims against her estate. If their claims are valid, the probate court will pay creditors' claims before it distributes any assets to the heirs or beneficiaries.

Designated Beneficiaries

Assets such as life insurance and retirement accounts pass on to the beneficiary or beneficiaries that the deceased designated before she died to receive those assets after her death. Assets that pass from a deceased to a designated beneficiary do so separate and apart from the probate process. Similarly, assets such as automobiles or real estate that the deceased held jointly with another person, where both people had a right of survivorship, pass directly to the designated survivor without going through probate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Rhode Island Inheritance Laws


Related articles

Death Without Wills & the Rights of Survivorship for a Property

While a will is one tool used in estate planning, there are other options available to ensure that your property goes to the appropriate beneficiary after your death. One of those alternatives is making your property subject to a right of survivorship. The benefit of the right of survivorship versus using a will is that the beneficiary obtains the property faster. Property and probate law operate under state law, so consider consulting with an attorney licensed to practice in your state if you want to create a right of survivorship or if you wish to determine if a right of survivorship exists on a piece of property.

Inheritance Laws & Marital Property in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, a married person can make a will and leave everything to his spouse, if he chooses. However, if a married person dies without a will, known as dying "intestate," Pennsylvania's laws of intestate succession provide protection to the surviving spouse by granting her a portion of the estate. The portion to which a surviving spouse is entitled depends on whether the deceased spouse has surviving children or parents.

Death Without a Will in Michigan

Under Michigan law, when a person dies without a will, it is said the person died intestate. The law has rules for what happens to a person's property when a person dies without a will. These rules are necessary because there is no will to provide direction as to how the deceased wished to distribute his property. The probate court will distribute property that was not owned jointly, as well as property that did not have a named beneficiary, according to Michigan law.

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

Related articles

Who Is Legally the Next of Kin?

Next of kin is a legal term that comes up when someone has died without a will. If an individual dies without leaving a ...

Types of Heirs

In general, an heir is a person who is entitled to inherit all or part of a deceased person’s estate. However, in legal ...

How to Write a Will for a Widow

Many spouses create wills while both are alive, leaving everything to the survivor when one spouse dies. The surviving ...

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 ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED