What It Means To Die Intestate

Did a close relative die and not leave a will? You will face some complexities, but you can get through them if you know the rules.

How will the estate be distributed in the absence of a will? To start with, many assets are not passed by will, such as:

  • Life insurance proceeds.
  • Real estate, bank accounts and assets held in joint tenancy/community property with the right of survivorship.
  • Property held in a living trust.
  • IRAs, 401(k)s and retirement plans — assuming a beneficiary was named.
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts.
  • Stocks or other securities held in a transfer-on-death account.
  • Real estate or vehicles held with a transfer-on-death deed or title document.

State law provides a list of folks who are eligible to fill the role of executor. Most states make the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner the first choice. Adult children usually are next on the list, followed by other family members.

If you’ve been chosen to serve as an executor, you’ll follow the intestate laws for inheritance rules: spouses, registered domestic partners and blood relatives inherit. Unmarried partners, friends and charities get nothing.

The surviving spouse gets the largest share, splitting the inheritance with the children. If there are no children, the spouse often receives all the property, although there may be exceptions based on state law. More distant relatives inherit only if there’s no surviving spouse and there are no children. If no relatives can be found, the state takes the assets.

All states have rules that bar certain people from inheriting, based on past actions. For example, someone who criminally caused the death doesn’t profit from it. A parent who abandoned or refused to support a child or committed certain crimes against a child cannot inherit from that child.

In some cases, it may be relatively clear who will receive the assets after someone passes away without a will. However, more likely than not it is overly complicated. If you find yourself struggling to sort out a loved one’s estate after they have passed away without a will, reach out to an estate administration attorney for guidance.

Do you have questions?

Count on your experienced team at Ericson, Scalise & Mangan, PC to provide you with sound guidance for your Estate Planning, Elder Law, Real Estate, Probate, Trust & Estate Administration, and other legal needs. For assistance, contact us today at (860) 229-0369, or email us at info@esmlaw.com.

a gavel with papers that say probate court, intestate