What Happens When a Person Dies Without a Will?

By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 07/21/2010
In Legal Resources

man writingMany 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. Our full disclaimer can be read here.

66 Responses to “What Happens When a Person Dies Without a Will?”

  1. dimpho Says:

    My father was a police man and died in 1992 when I was born,now we head that someone is using his information/details at work.he had a house but unfortunately his family sold it but they knew he had 2 children.how do we fight this please help.

  2. kheem singh bisht Says:

    sir i want to know someting My father is missing before 17 Years we dont know where he than his property can be trasfer my mother name and me it is possible or not

  3. Lois Says:

    My mom died without a will or power of attorney or payable on death.

    She was married. We (siblings) are wondering what we need to do next. Our mom had a her own bank account that her husband was not on the account. The money she had in the bank came from the sell of the home in which she had before they were married but the money went into her account while they were married.

    We don’t know what to do. He is wanting us to sign something ( I haven’t received my paperwork) but it sounds fishy.


  4. Kathy Blair Says:

    Mom and dad had five acres, both have passed. My father was a sr.and my brother thinks since he has the same name that all of it belongs to him.I want to sell mine but he tells me its his.what can I do? Thank you

  5. Chastity Says:

    I have a question. My mother died unexpectedly so therefore she had no will. My father and her had property and the deed is in both names. My parents had always told us from the beginning that if one or the other passes away that their part of the land is to be divided between the 4 of us children. Well I just found out today that my father has taken and but the whole property in my sister’s name alone and left us other 3 in the dark and did not bother to ask us. Is this legal is Texas can he do that without our signature. I was told that he could not. But would like to know the exact details before I hire an attorney. Thank you for you time,,

  6. Leslie George Says:

    My brother died two months ago in Texas. He was a homeless Vietnam veteran with no estate and no will. The only thing he had was a bank account. My parents are deceased and the only heirs are siblings. What forms are required to petition for any money left in his in his bank account? Do we need an attorney or can we get the forms from the Texas Comptroller website? Thank you.

  7. Victoria Wetter Says:

    My father just passed he had no will. The deed to the houses are in both his and my grandfathers name he is also passed. I’m the only child of my father’s. Who does the houses go to? Or should i just wash my hands of the mess since i have aunts and uncles who want the houses.

  8. Victoria Wetter Says:

    This is in Texas also.

  9. Carisia Moreno Says:

    Hi my husband’s father passed he was not married and left no will he also had no property the only thing he had was a new car that will be paid off due to an insurance policy he had through the car company. My husband has a13 year old sister and her mother is saying she should get the car because the daughter is a minor is that true?

  10. Carisia Moreno Says:

    Oh we live in Houston Texas Thanks

  11. Destiny Says:

    I’m 17 and both my parents are deceased. My dad was the recent death and he’s left no will. I want to leave the house my sister is having me stay at my “caregiver” through dhs although the fishy thing is there is no proof. But they say if I leave I’ll be a runaway and they can lock me up in cic. I have no legal guardian so any advice as to what I should do? I live in Lawton Oklahoma

  12. Destiny Says:

    I also cannot afford a lawyer..

  13. molly Says:

    My mother died in small town in GA in 2010. I am her only child and she was unmarried. When I arrived at town all funeral arrangements were completed. I never received her death certificate (I had to go buy one) or any insurance funds. she was receiving social security and disability at the time. to my knowledge her only possession was a small car. I can not get the title to the car b/c they need me to prove who I am with a power of attorney which I don’t have. I don’t know where to start or how to proceed in settling my moms estate. I have been trying for years making numerous phone calls receiving packets from the court in GA that are too complicated to complete. I don’t know what to do next and I would like to put this to rest as I did my poor mom

  14. Jacqui Hinckesman Says:

    My Daughter died while she was in care, am I entitled to her savings?

  15. Kim Says:

    My brother died this February, and he told me if I get good grades in school that he will let me get awarded with his laptop, well his girlfriend at the time has his laptop now and refuses to give me his things she has.. What do you guys suggest.

  16. Jonathan Says:

    My brother died a month ago and didn’t have a will ,, he owned a few cars and house hold items his girlfriend is getting rid of the things he had.. what can I do to stop this?? My mother is alive but doesn’t want to do anything about it.. so what can I do as his brother??

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