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By: Katherine On: December 6, 2016 In: Legal Resources Comments: 43
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Many people put off creating a will for years, but what happens if you die without one?

Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, you should consider creating a will or trust.

When a person dies without a will, an already difficult situation can become a complicated legal mess for the person’s loved ones.

The State Is Involved

When a person dies without a will, it is said that the person died “intestate.” Each state has intestacy laws in place which determine who is entitled to the deceased’s property and assets.

While intestacy laws vary slightly from state to state, they generally follow the same path, especially for smaller estates. If someone dies without a will but owns no property and has assets of less than $100,000, no formal court proceeding is required. Family members can file a Declaration of Small Estate through a bank or even the DMV and are then allowed to collect and split the deceased’s assets.

If property is involved, however, collecting the estate becomes more complicated.

Property & Relationships Are Involved

When a person dies without a will and owns property, the process varies considerably based on the deceased’s relationship status.

If the person who dies without a will is single with or without children, the process is generally easier than if the deceased is married or has a domestic partner.

What If the Person Who Dies Without a Will Is Single?

If a person who is not married dies without a will, the person’s estate goes to his or her child or is split evenly between multiple children.

If the person who dies without a will has no children, then the estate goes to his or her parents. If the parents are deceased, the estate is split among siblings.

What If the Person Who Dies Without a Will Is Married?

State laws vary far more widely if a person dies without a will and leaves behind a spouse or domestic partner, children and other relatives.

If there are children in the relationship, they may inherit up to two-thirds of the estate while the spouse receives the remainder.

If there are no children in the relationship, the surviving spouse may inherit the entire estate — or, depending on the state, as little as one-third of the property and assets, with the rest going to the parents and siblings of the deceased.

Intestacy Laws Around the World

In ancient times, if a person died and left no clear heirs, kings or other rulers would claim the deceased’s estate as their own.

In some ways, that rule is still in effect — if the deceased has no living relatives, his or her property and assets get turned over to the state.

Many countries around the world have intestacy laws similar to those of the United States, including Canada, England, Wales and Ireland. Other countries do not have explicit intestacy laws, but many family members of people who die without wills can successfully claim ownership of their deceased relatives’ estates.

Note: This page is for general informational purposes only. LLS cannot give personal legal advice to any individual. Please contact an attorney with any questions.

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    • barbara bibeau
    • May 16, 2017
    • Reply

    My husband and I have grown children from previous marriages. We own our home jointly as well as vehicles. No other assets. do we need a will?

      • Brian Spitz
      • May 22, 2017
      • Reply

      Hello Barbara,
      Yes, it’s always important to have a will, and your case is no exception. Just think of it this way: if both of you were to pass away, what would happen to the home? Would your children be able to simply divide up amongst themselves fairly? It only takes one to put their feet in the sand and gum up the works for everyone. And besides, you don’t want to put them in that position in the first place, as having to decide how to divide up a loved one’s assets is just an ugly and sad thing to have to do. So I would definitely suggest that you and your husband work on getting your will in order. Read more here:
      Hope this helped!
      — Brian Spitz, President of Big State Home Buyers

    • Nicky
    • May 24, 2017
    • Reply

    My dad has passed away November just gone, he was single, left no will. Does his sister have any rights? She said she would let me the eldest son know about things when they unfreeze his bank accounts etc. She has just avoided anything that iv asked her since . can you give me any advice on this as i strongly believe that she’s spent his money, my dad also had shares of the 3 bedroom house left by his parents. I’m just left with nothing and it was me who found my dad, and also done most of the looking after him until he lost his life to throat cancer, in his rented property next door to the property which was left between my dad and his 2 sisters i believe. Can you give me any advice about this please?

      • Shannon
      • August 30, 2017
      • Reply

      Hi Nicky call an attorney

      • Tamara
      • September 14, 2017
      • Reply

      You being his child you are the one that is untitled to your dad’s belongings. The children are always the heirs. Before anyone

        • Kay
        • October 19, 2017
        • Reply

        My mom passed away in November of 1997. My stepdad passsed away in July of 2006. Long and short of this…..Today my stepdads neice calls me stating that she has been contacted regarding a life insurance policy for my mother. She stated that they contacted her and that she wanted to give me the ladies name and number for the insurance company. I asked the neice to send me a picture of the letter. The letter starts out stating that they are in receipt of a life insurance policy for my mother. I call and the adjuster informs me that the money was left to my stepdad but never claimed. Please keep in mind my mom is passed nearly 20 years ago and my stepdad 11 years. He has no children and owned nothing. The insurance adjuster asks me to send her my moms death certificate so I do along with copies of paper for other insurance policies that were split evenly between my stepdad and both my sister and my self nearly 20 years ago. Is his family supposed to get this money????

    • Joann Reaves
    • May 26, 2017
    • Reply

    Hello my daugther passed away in Janurary , she has four children but she had no will. What are there rights? The kids signed a waver for there grandmother to be over there monies ,but she were told that she could not be over the monies, because her credit wasn’t good enough. So the kids has lost the home , and are homeless , car is on the next step to being repossessed . So what can they do? Ps [kids are living with family]

    • mick
    • June 01, 2017
    • Reply

    mom passed no will, a trust was drawn In 1 siblings name.. my brothers wife who is trustee of moms estate put him as sole owner of property..what rights do 3 other siblings have?

    • sarah greenwald
    • June 12, 2017
    • Reply

    my brother passed away.And was living with his fiancea. But there was no will does she have to return all of things to my father.Or does she get to keep all of his belongings. She is not releasing anything to us. Does she have a right to keep it.

    • Michele Montague
    • June 15, 2017
    • Reply

    My mother was with a man after being married unhappily to my father for 30 years she met and stayed with this second man, (who I will refer as her second (common law husband) as she was devoted to him faithfully until her dearth after 18 years. They had always lived in Southern California together, happily. that he has now passed away, without any family would my sister and myself be entitled to at JORITY least a portion of his estate being that when they were first together, my mother took care of him when he was utterly destitute with my father’s money: something that my sister and me where fine with, as long as they were happy together…what did it matter. But we feel that rather then the majority of his holdings just go to the US Treasury, unanimously, since he was part of our family we can do something useful and improve the quality of our lives. Any thoughts?

    • Vico
    • June 15, 2017
    • Reply

    My mom passed away and she never did a wll i have been paying the mortgage for a year and i live in the house but i have a brother that wants to come and get half of the house when he hasn’t paid a penney in the house what can i do to protect myself and put the house under my name

    • diana cato
    • June 17, 2017
    • Reply

    I live in statesville,nc…his daughter has been here twice to get his belongings..she has got his debit card from me and emptied his bank accou nt out..now she wants to come back for a third time and get more personal belongings..how many times do i havee to let here in and what papers could she of filled to make me let her back in again??

    • debbie nawrocki
    • June 19, 2017
    • Reply

    my fiancé of 22 yrs recently passed away with no will. all the property we owned truck car mototcycle and house are all in my name. his name is on nothing we never spoke about who would get what as all was in my name now his son said he is going to take me to court to get his dads motorcycle I said regardless of hear say that bike is in my name and you are not getting it. is there a way he can come after me for my stuff

      • donna
      • August 31, 2017
      • Reply

      my fiancée of 33 years is terminal. my name is on everything am I safe from the state of florida

    • Elizabeth Ragona
    • June 24, 2017
    • Reply

    My mother Marge and her partner Shirley were together 30 years. They were legally married in August 2015. In December 2016, my mother’s partner died from her battle with cancer but didn’t leave passwords or information about several bank and stock accounts that she owned. My mother is having problems accessing these bank and stock accounts and needs them to help pay the expenses for the house they shared. She just keeps saying that because Shirley was the “sole owner”, she can’t access them. Doesn’t being married give her rights to Shirley’s property when Shirley had no other heirs or children?

    • Kelsey
    • June 24, 2017
    • Reply

    My relative just passed away. She is a widow with one child. She owned a titled MH in her name only that is trashed. She left numerous unpaid bills. No will can be found. Her only child wants nothing to do with MH as they live out of State and with no money they can’t afford to be away from work to clean it out. It would take a lot of money and time. Can he be help liable if no will can be produced?

    • Lisa
    • June 28, 2017
    • Reply

    Ok my dad passed away in January with no will. Three years ago his wife got up and left him brought a house in another state. She did not pay any of his bills now the collectors are calling us. My dads name along with my and my siblings name are on the deed does his wife that left him three years ago have any right to my grandparents house this is killing my family. If so how can this happen. My dad never files for divorce or separation. But all in all my grandparents build this house and now she is fighting for this house. Please help us. We do have a lawyer she said she can get up to fifty thousand then half of everything that’s left is this true if so this is not fair in any way can we take her to court and win or is their no way in hell that we can win this case. It’s not about us getting anything she already go my dads stuff we just want our granparents house to stay in our family.

    • allan
    • July 27, 2017
    • Reply

    my uncle died months ago but since hes living abroad>usa and were living in the philippines we dont have the means to check if our other relatives are processing stuff accurately.

    i just want to know if its really possible that a bank such as bank of america will just give partial amount for all the expenses of my uncles burial? do banks really access deceased account to provide partial amount?without the bank releasing the whole account?>

    • Mavet
    • July 29, 2017
    • Reply

    My dad died in 2017. He did not leave a will. He had a wife which is my stepmother. I think she is on the title of the house. I have 3 siblings from my dads first marriage with mom. My mom passed away in 1988. I also have 4 half siblings through my dads 2nd marriage.

    what is my right as my dads first daughter?

    • milton
    • August 03, 2017
    • Reply

    Milton shabalala
    HI my name is Milton shabalala, i am living with my mom my dad died long ago(2001).My dad had other children with another Wife but they broke up…after that my dad met my mom and we were born.So now my dads first born came in and took everthing that was left by my dad back then.So my question was he suppose to do what he did ?

    • Stacey Miller
    • August 08, 2017
    • Reply

    Hello, I am from Texas and recently my father had passed. He didn’t have a will what so ever and is needing advice onto getting his belongings.. Me, my brother and sister have been trying our butts off to figure things out on going about doing this because the woman my father was with is giving us a hard time getting our fathers things. They were not married at all. She refuses to give us anything and says our fathers things are hers now and its not right nor its not her things what so ever. She has caused us nothing but being truly upset, cussing at us for no reason. When our father passed she completely left everything for us to figure what to do with us burying our father and not helping. I don’t understand why someone or how someone can truly be so freaking mean and heartless. Please if anyone can help me know on what us kids can do. We are all adults here like I have told this lady but she refuses to even speak to us anymore..

    • dale riddle
    • August 08, 2017
    • Reply

    My dad passed away in 2015 .him had a will but it was to his wife which is my stepmother. But she died in 2014 . He has not changed his will . I am the only blood related son , he has an adopted son I know its is suppose to be a 50 /50 split but on some stuff like his silver star and purple heart and other medals from Vietnam does the older blood relative not get thwm

    • Stumpy
    • August 11, 2017
    • Reply

    My ex brother in law is very ill and is not expected to live,, he has never married and no children and no living family and no will or any other directives. If he would die what would happen to his estate? He doesn’t own any property and doesn’t have very much personal belongings or money except for a motorcycle. He does have a girlfriend that he has never lived with and he is living in a house that I own rent free because he doesn’t have any money.

    • Ka
    • August 19, 2017
    • Reply

    Hi All,

    I have a similar but complex situation with regards to “Wills”. The complexity is within two families, involving complete isolation & seperation.

    My situation is as such – my older brother was married to someone with 2 kids (my nephew & niece) and is now deceased in Colorado, USA. Since they were married, there was a complete ISOLATION and barrier formed between the TWO families. As a result, my own parents were not able to communicate and have a happy/wonderful life of their remaining (now retired) years with their own grandchildren. After the death of my brother, we lost everything! Especially, my brother’s two little kids (my parents’ grandchildren).

    I believe, after a little bit of reading, however I could be wrong – do we (including, my parents) have some “Legal Rights” or can we have any types of legal proceedings with regards to – my brother’s property & assets, Will (the daughter-in-law refused to share this Will in the first place), grandparents requesting grandchildren access/visitation(s), etc.

    At first, I was not inclined to post here, but I am very much worried for my parents’ existence and the remaining years of loneliness & depression, however it absolutely makes it worse when knowing, we lost everything!

    Is there anyway we can fight against this matter?

    For further details only – I am the youngest sibling residing in Australia and my parents are in the US.

    • David Schuttler / Julie A White
    • August 23, 2017
    • Reply

    Im not sure what to do…I have one parent(mother) in assisted living due to a stroke and spouse(father) has passed away with no will. There are only us two siblings(son & daughter) My sister is POA of my mother, so this is where Im trying to figure stuff out. Am I entitled to any of the personal belongings of my father at this point. My sister is being shady and will not speak with me regarding personal items within the house. The house will be sold to pay for care for mother, but again personal items involved. Do I David (brother/son)have rights to personal possessions of my parents?

    • Renw
    • August 23, 2017
    • Reply

    My mom is in a adult care home and has dementia, her doctor has hospice involved and it’s looking like my mom may have little time left. I live in Washington and she is in Oregon. Before my mom went into the care home she lost or had stolen her purse with her Oregon I’d and social security card in it. We never found it and right after that happened I had received notice from her case manager (senior services) that they had a spot in and adult care home so we never got the id’s replaced. She still had her bank debit card and the owner of the home can withdrawal the part of the rent that the state doesn’t cover. Mom has nobody on the account so this has been the only way to pay her bill. All has worked out fine and I’m able to go online to her bank account and make sure nothing is amiss as well as transfer any money not needed for her rent into her savings account. She now has under 2000.00 built up in savings. She doesn’t want a funeral as her and my dad donated their bodies to science care. My dad passed in 2008. The hospice nurse is telling me it would be a good time to come visit her as they do not know how much time is left. I’m on disability and ssi and can not afford to make the trip as well as stay for 5 or so days in a motel. Hospice has been checking to see what resources they can come up with as well. So my question is 1. Can money in her savings be used to pay for my motel bill with me keeping receipts? 2. If she passes will the money in her savings go to me? She has no bills or debts.

    • Randel
    • August 24, 2017
    • Reply

    What happen when my dad pass away and im living in the house can my brother make me move? My name is not on the property.

    • Shawana Adams
    • September 04, 2017
    • Reply

    My stepdaughter passed away at 26 children father deceased as well who has rights to the children shr has no will as we cant find as of now and can the great grandmother take them out of state legally

    • ntokozo
    • September 05, 2017
    • Reply

    hi my grand mother passed on last year not leaving a will so her house was inherited by my father who then passed on last month so I don’t know how to gain ownership of the house because I am the only child and so was my dad I need help finding where he may have stated that iam the beneficiary to the house because we don’t use the same surname

    • Coral Covington
    • September 07, 2017
    • Reply

    My father just passed, he had been living with me since September of 2016. He moved to Washington from Idaho. He has a bank account with less than $12,000 and land on the Couer D’ Alene Reservation in Worley, ID and land on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA. He left no will. I am the oldest daughter of 3 and my father was still married to my mother. They have been split for 45 years. Does my mom get all his assets? I know my father would never want for my mother to get anything of his, nor does my mother want anything. What do I need to do to see about getting his land split between my sisters and I, as well as the money he has in a bank account. I already froze his account so no one could touch it.

    • Brian
    • September 19, 2017
    • Reply

    One of my parents died and the next month the other died. My brothers and sisters took everything but I didn’t get anything at all. I am homeless and living in a tent but they won’t even talk to me. I know that I should have got SOMETHING but I didn’t. What should I do? There was no will or anything, my siblings just don’t like me.

    • Diefani
    • September 26, 2017
    • Reply

    Hi, my mother passd away two weeks ago and I’m he ronly child, she was divorced. I’m overseas working and will be able to make it back to the USA on january, what happens to my mother’s bank account and car title? I mean, how long do I have to do something before the state takes it? She has a twin brother in whom I trust, Can I give him power of attorney (documents notirized in US Embassy) so he can withdraw the money and close the accounts as well as selling my mother’s car? She was young, which menas she wasn’t retired, what happens to her social security retirement fund? So many questions, I’m completely lost.

    • Regena
    • October 03, 2017
    • Reply

    My sister just passed away and didn’t have a living will. She has four children. She has a home that is financed through a mortgage company but none of her children are able to take on the payments. If my parents which is the deceased parents if they were to just pay off the mortgage what will happen then? Would the house go to my parents legally or would the kids still be in charge?

    • Mary R.
    • October 16, 2017
    • Reply

    My Father died April 27, 2015. My sister and I were 32 & 31 when he died. He was married August 2010 (married less than 5 years when he died.) He split insurance between his current wife, me and my sister. He did not leave a will for his belongings. Is there any way my sister and I can legally get what we want from her? She is not being cooperative and the few items we want are of no use or value to her.

    • anyta Martinez
    • October 23, 2017
    • Reply

    Hi my moms boyfriend passed away almost 2 months ago from throat cancer and other heath issues and didn’t have time to include my mom is his savings account for the reason that he would always be at the hospital or doctors appointments he had 2 children from his first marriage but the children never came around to visit him or talk to him and so he spent almost 32 years single and then one day he meet my mom they got to know each other then decided to move in together and my mom was the only person who was always there watching him day and night until his last breath and now that he passed away his daughter decided to come in the picture disrespect my mother saying she was a nobody and went to the bank to freeze her dads savings account and take the money saying her dad left her the money wen all that isn’t true now my mothers boyfriend didn’t leave a will or nobody in the bank account like I said because of him always being sick but he did heave a letter notarized saying he left all his money in his savings account to my mom because that was all he had time to do and also my mom and him had 5yeras together but not married I want to know if my mom has any rights to fight for that money

    • C Sed
    • October 26, 2017
    • Reply

    My dad and I weren’t very close, and he died with no will in Oklahoma. I lived in Iowa at the time. His brothers in Oklahoma, knew he died and didn’t tell me for days after my dad died. In those few days, they cleaned out his entire house of everything of value, and there wasn’t anything I could do. Here I was trying to grapple with the news my dad had died days before I was even told, just so his brothers could steal everything in the house.

    • nedra.williams@us.af.mil
    • October 26, 2017
    • Reply

    My mother past away back in 1985 and left a 3 bedroom townhouse with me. I have lived and paid every payment for this property before and after my mom died. A year ago, I paid off the property and have lived here for the past 25 years. Now that the property is paid in full my siblings tell me that the property belong to all of us even though I’m the one who made all the payments and paid all yearly taxes. What rights to I have to this property or none at all. What should I do now that the family want rights. None of us took time to change the house into our names. Are they right, I just lost all my money paying for this property to share it with them.

    • Ronald Rouse
    • November 01, 2017
    • Reply

    My Mother has just passed away. In 2013 she added my name to the signature card attached to her checking and banking accounts. I learned today while at the bank closing them that she has several other accounts at the same bank. What steps need to be taken in order to access those accounts?

    • Randy
    • November 25, 2017
    • Reply

    Hi a relative of mine did not leave a will nor did they appoint an executor how do I go about this on claiming there belongings?

    • Don Helmick
    • November 27, 2017
    • Reply

    Long story short, My sister passed she has three children and a husband who is not the father of any of the children. He also walked out 20 years ago. Only reappeared when he heard she passed. What happens to the car and the few belongings she had. She had no will.

    • T
    • November 27, 2017
    • Reply

    My boyfriend’s grandpa passed a couple of years ago, he had money and owned a couple houses. He had several children, my boyfriend’s dad being one of them. About a year later, my boyfriend’s dad also passed away. My boyfriend’s dad owns a house with his wife (my boyfriend’s mom) but I do not believe her name was on the house. The assets of the grandpa were still being distributed, as the 2 houses had to sell first, when the dad passed. I believe the dad did not have a will. So who is entitled to my boyfriend’s dad’s belongings and the remaining inheritance that he was entitled to when his dad passed before him? Currently my boyfriend’s mother (dad’s wife) is taking everything. When the houses of his grandpa sold (after his dad’s death), the portion that should have gone to his dad went to his mom instead – should it have gone to him and his siblings? What can he do if assets are not being divided up correctly? How can he find out what money and assets his dad had and left?

    • catherine
    • December 07, 2017
    • Reply

    i am a single mother with 22 months baby my husband died more than a year ago and my mother in law call my that she received a letter that my husband has life insurance but she is the sole beneficiary because he got the insurance when he was still single do we have rights with the insurance that she will be getting? thanks

    • chris
    • December 21, 2017
    • Reply

    My brother died in the military. I was still listed as his nok but he recently married a foreign national who is much younger than him so they transferred me to Snok. I was his guardian when he was under 18 due to our parents passing away. My brother leaves behind young children from a different marriage and his new wife will not talk to the family now that he has been buried. She is also not a us citizen and there is a language barrier. The military is now only passing info to the widow since the caco’s are done. There are so many things we need to talk about and the widow refuses to talk please help, no one will touch this case.

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