Millions of Americans, for one reason or another, have never written a will. Should someone die without writing a will, known as dying intestate, then state laws will determine how the estate is divided amongst survivors. The Uniform Probate Code of 1990 serves as the basis for most state law regarding division of intestate property. However, state laws in some cases will vary dramatically from the Code. Provided here is information from the Code.
If there is a surviving spouse, he or she is entitled to the full inheritance unless certain criteria apply. If there are surviving parents but no children, then the spouse will inherit the first $200,000 of the estate plus three-quarters of the remaining amount. The parents will receive the rest.
If there are surviving children that are not the children of the surviving spouse, and surviving children who are the children of the surviving spouse, then the spouse will receive the first $150,000 plus one-half of the remaining estate. The children will receive the rest.
If the only surviving children are not the surviving spouse's children, then the spouse will receive the first $100,000 of the estate plus one-half of the remaining estate. The children will receive the rest.
If someone dies intestate without leaving a surviving spouse, the children of the deceased will automatically inherit the full estate. If there is a surviving spouse, then the children will be entitled to the remainder of the estate after the spouse receives his or her share (see above). The children's share of the estate will be divided equally between the children.
The estate passes first to any surviving spouse and then to children (see above). If there are no children, then the parents of the deceased will receive that share of the estate. If there is no spouse and no children, then the parents will inherit the full estate. The parents' portion of the estate will be divided equally between both parents if both are still alive.
If there is no surviving spouse and no children or parents, then the estate will pass to other relatives in a specific order. Siblings are next in line, followed by grandparents and then their descendants (aunts, uncles and cousins). If no living relatives are found, the estate will eventually pass to the state.
The Bottom Line
Division of an estate is made according to the state's belief of what a reasonable person would want. Of course, the state has no knowledge of specific family relationships or personal desires. No exceptions can be made for exceptional circumstances or financial hardship. Even if the desires of the deceased are well-known amongst relatives and friends, the courts will not deviate from the state's probate law. Hence the importance of having a will. To die without a will is to put the state in charge of one's most personal financial and family affairs.
Questions & Answers: Intestate Succession