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Dying Without a Will


If you die without having created a will or a trust, you are considered to have died intestate.  In this situation, the state has a created a default will for you.  The default will determines who the state appoints to manage your affairs after you die and the default will determines who will inherit your probate assets.

Upon your death the following will occur if you die without a will:

  • A family member will inventory the assets of the deceased and list what the decedent owned and what the decedent owes.
  • The inventory will include a list of all property with a title.  Based upon the method of title, the person taking the inventory will place the assets in either the automatic inheritance bucket, the trust bucket, or the probate bucket.
    • Property with automatic inheritance rights will automatically be transferred to the named beneficiaries.
    • Trust assets will be managed by the designated successor trustee.
    • The remaining probate property will be distributed according to the applicable state law of intestacy.  These are laws which describe who inherits your probate property when you fail to leave a will.
      • Under most state laws of intestacy, the probate assets are divided among a surviving spouse and children of the decedent.  However, if there is no surviving spouse and no surviving children, then the intestate assets are distributed to next of kin.  In most states, stepchildren have no right to inherit.  If there are no surviving relatives, the entire probate estate may go to the state.
  • The inventory will also include a list of all property without a title, i.e., your jewelry, your furniture, cash, art, and your digital assets.  The estate representative will determine how to distribute the personal property to your beneficiaries.
  • An estate representative, sometimes called an administrator or a personal representative, will be appointed by the court to administer your intestate probate estate.  Most state laws contain a preference that a surviving spouse, and then surviving children, be appointed to serve as the administrator of the intestate estate.
  • The estate representative will decide if probate is required and whether the estate needs to follow procedures for a small estate, a surviving spouse, or a normal probate process.
  • The court appointed estate representative has the same responsibility as someone you appoint as an executor in your will or the successor trustee in your living trust, except that they are not guided by a will or a trust; their actions are governed by state laws only.  ibutton: State Intestate Succession Statutes