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By: Katherine On: December 6, 2016 In: Legal Resources Comments: 12

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?

    • 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

    • 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?

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