Dying intestate can mean either that you didn’t have a will or that you had one, but it was held to be unenforceable for some reason.
Intestate inheritance is governed by state law. Every state has its own set of statutes that stipulates who inherits and in what order. These laws are called the laws of succession or the laws of inheritance. The Uniform Probate Code is a template for inheritance laws, and many states have based their own code on the UPC.
Yahoo’s recent article, “What Happens If I Die Without a Valid Will?” explains that the probate courts govern intestate estates. An intestate estate goes through the same three-step process as a testate estate. Attorneys get paid first; debts, taxes, administrative fees and other legal liabilities are paid second, then the heirs receive their portions.
Most state probate codes distribute assets based on the closeness of relation to the deceased. The close relatives inherit before distant relatives in “tiers” of inheritance. Most states’ laws say that intestate succession will proceed in the following order:
- Legal descendants (i.e., children)
- Parents of the decedent
- Siblings of the decedent
- Grandparents of the decedent
- Nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and first cousins.
As a general rule, any given category of an heir will inherit the entire estate, which is divided into pro-rata shares among all heirs; for example, if an individual died intestate with no spouse, children, or surviving parents, but two sisters and several aunts and uncles. The two sisters would each receive half of the estate, and the aunts and uncles would get nothing.
The big exception to this rule is spouses. In most cases, a spouse will automatically inherit all non-marital assets. However, the Uniform Probate Code does have exceptions for heirs, such as parents and descendants. This is important when it involves children to whom the surviving spouse is not related.
If someone dies intestate and they have no legal living heirs, their assets go to the state.
Reference: Yahoo (January 27, 2023) “What Happens If I Die Without a Valid Will?”