What to Do When Someone Dies Without Leaving a Will?

By Maggie Lourdes

When someone dies without a will or other estate planning direction, this is legally known as dying "intestate." Intestate estates are distributed to heirs according to state statutes. Spouses and children are first in line to inherit intestate estates. If there is no spouse or children, then next of kin inherit. An intestate estate must pass through probate court before it is distributed to heirs. If there are no relatives, an intestate estate passes to the state.

Will Substitutes

Sometimes people use will substitutes in lieu of wills. These are estate planning techniques that avoid probate. For example, a person may put her property in a trust in lieu of a will, and when she dies, a trustee will distribute the property according to the terms of the trust. Another will substitute is a Totten trust or payable-on-death account. The beneficiary of a POD account presents the death certificate of the account holder to the financial institution, which then disburses the account funds to him as the named beneficiary. When a decedent leaves no will, his heirs should ascertain if he used any will substitutes.

Petition for Probate

If no will or will substitutes exist, an interested party must open a probate estate. The party must petition for an appointment as personal representative -- sometimes called an estate administrator -- in the probate court of the county where the decedent resided. Court filing fees range around $200. Once the court appoints a personal representative, she must publish notice of the proceedings in a local newspaper so estate creditors can make claims for payment. She also must provide notice of the court proceedings to all known heirs.

Get a free, confidential bankruptcy evaluation. Learn More

Administering an Estate

Once the court has appointed a personal representative, she must gather all of the decedent's property and file an inventory of it with the court. She must also pay the estate's debts and file estate tax returns. The personal representative may charge the estate reasonable rates set by law for her services. She may employ experts to assist with the estate administration, such as accountants, lawyers, real estate agents and appraisers.

Distribution and Closure

Once the estate's legal debts are paid, the personal representative distributes the decedent's property to his heirs. The representative must follow the state's intestate succession statutes when determining heirs and the amount of property they receive. A personal representative typically closes an intestate estate by submitting a certificate of closure with the court. The personal representative must ensure all applicable court fees are paid. She must also file a final accounting with the court. The accounting details all bills paid from the estate and all property conveyed to its heirs.

Get a free, confidential bankruptcy evaluation. Learn More
Probate Laws for No Will in the State of Maine


Related articles

What Is the Legal Procedure After the Death of a Person Who Doesn't Leave a Will?

Less than half of Americans -- only 35 percent – had wills as of 2010, according to Forbes.com. Unsurprisingly, states must implement laws to address the estates of those who do not. These people are said to have died “intestate,” but their property must usually still pass through probate to transfer title to heirs. Someone must also pay the decedent’s debts, and probate takes care of this also. Probate without a will is very similar to probate with one, but it usually involves a little more court supervision.

What Are the Duties of an Executor of a Will in Delaware?

In Delaware, residents may draft wills directing the distribution of their property after death. A testator, or will maker, typically names an executor in his will whose primary duty will be to gather and distribute his assets upon his death. The Register of Wills formally appoints the executor. Once a formal appointment is made, the executor can legally carry out his duties of administering the decedent's estate.

Who Enforces the Execution of a Will?

In drafting your will, you may appoint a person to serve as your executor, also known as a personal representative. This person will have the responsibility of carrying out your wishes pursuant to the will. Because the executor has a number of responsibilities and can be held personally responsible if they are not properly carried out, carefully consider appointing someone who is trustworthy and capable of carrying out the somewhat complicated probate process.

Related articles

What Is an Appointed Executor of a Will?

A person names an executor, also called a personal representative, in her will. When the person dies, her will must be ...

How to Settle a Personal Estate

When a person creates a will, she often includes language in the will identifying a person who will serve as the ...

Administrator Responsibilities for Estate Sales Without a Will

When a person dies without a will, the state probate court will appoint an individual to oversee the transfer of his ...

Letters Testamentary Without a Will

Whether a person creates a will or not, her estate must be administered after her death. In either case, the court ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED