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By: Katherine On: December 6, 2016 In: Legal Resources Comments: 3

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.


    • 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?

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