Concerned clients routinely ask what happens to their estate if they were to die without a will. If this was the case, the intestacy laws (i.e., laws surrounding what happens when a valid will isn’t present) of the state where you reside determine how your property (e.g., bank accounts, real estate and other assets) will be distributed upon your death. Fortunately, the state does not take your property if you didn’t draw up a valid will before your death.
However, it’s not always easy to determine. The laws of intestate succession vary significantly. It depends on whether you were single or married, and if you left behind any children. In most cases, your property is distributed among your heirs – which could be your surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, or distant relatives.
Let’s review a few different scenarios to see if they answer any of the questions you may have about intestate succession.
If you die and you’re single:
- If you are single and childless, your parents will likely receive your entire estate.
- If only one parent is alive, your estate should be divided between your surviving parent and siblings (including half-siblings).
- If you have no surviving parents at the time of your death, your entire estate is equally split among your siblings.
- If you have neither surviving parents or siblings, then the relatives on both your mother’s and father’s side receive one-half of the estate.
- If you are single but have children, all the property is divided equally among the children.
- If you had a child who died before you, and they had children, then that child’s share will go your grandchildren.
If you die with a spouse:
Married or civil partners inherit under the rules of intestacy. So, if you are divorced or your civil partnership has been legally ended, your former partner cannot inherent.
- If married, your estate will either go entirely to your surviving spouse or be divided among your surviving spouse, parents and siblings.
- If you are married and have children with your current spouse, your estate will go to your surviving spouse – or half will go to your surviving spouse, with the other half going to the surviving children from another partner.
Estate planning can be complicated. We recommend speaking with an estate planning attorney to fully grasp what may happen in your particular case if you were to die without a valid will. An attorney can help craft a valid will and provide you with a peace of mind.