What happens if a person dies without a will? If someone dies without leaving a valid will the person is said to have died intestate, that’s legalese for without a will. The property she held in her own name as his or her own separate property passes to the person or persons specified in the laws of the deceased’s state of residence after any bills and taxes are taken care. The property she held in a trust, a retirement plan or life insurance or owned jointly with someone else passes directly to the main beneficiaries or other joint owners.
Each state has its own unique laws of intestate’s distribution and they’re all a bit different. Generally, the property of an unmarried person goes to her children if any and if not to her parents. For married individuals, a portion of the deceased’s own property typically goes to the spouse and a portion to the children or to the parents. If there’s no spouse no children and no surviving parents it goes to the brothers and sisters of the deceased, if any and if not it goes to even more distant relatives in the order that is specified and applied in a rather mechanical way under the intestate succession law of your state of residence.
By the way, you may have heard that if there is no will the state gets to keep all the money. That’s not the case except when the deceased has no reasonably close blood relatives when the family tree is virtually bare, it’s rare but it can happen. If you die without a will who would handle the rather heavy administrative work of gathering up the deceased’s assets selling some to be able to pay the bills and taxes and then distributing the balance to the proper beneficiaries? The probate court where the deceased resided typically appoints a beneficiary or relative to serve as the administrator or personal representative of the estate to do just that and then the court supervises to make sure the administrator does what he or she is supposed to do.
Although the system can work when someone dies without a will, preparing a will is a wise thing as it allows you to choose which relatives and friends and charities should get your assets and in what proportion rather than using a fixed distribution list but the state legislature decided on decades ago. Having a will also makes handling your estate much easier on the survivors and far less expensive and faster.