When a loved one passes away, emotions run high. Finding out after the funeral that there was no will may create stress for you and your family. What happens now? When someone dies without a will, what is the process for determining how things get settled? A person who dies without leaving a proper will is considered to be intestate. The laws of the state where the person resided take over in determining what happens next. However, there are some common laws of succession that kick in. Getting a broad sense of how these laws work may help you know what to look for.
A Married Person Dies Intestate
A married couple should have a joint will that determines what happens upon each of their deaths, or ultimately, what happens if they both die together. Typically, when one spouse dies, the estate passes to the surviving spouse. It is then up to that spouse to redraft a will to determine how the property and assets get distributed upon their death. If a married person doesn’t have a will, any joint property and assets pass to the survivor. Any separate property (owned before the marriage) may be split between the surviving spouse and siblings, parents, etc. If you have children with the surviving spouse, the entire estate passes to the spouse. However, if you have children with someone else, the estate will get split between the surviving spouse and the children.+
A Single Person Dies Intestate
When a single person dies, the estate usually passes to their parents if they are both living. If not, it will be split between your siblings. If you don’t have siblings, and both of your parents are dead, the estate will be divided between your father’s living relatives and your mother’s. If you have children, the estate will be equally divided between them. If you have no heirs, the estate goes to the state.
A Person Who Lives With Someone Dies Intestate
If you live with someone without being married and that person dies, it can be devastating. That’s because most states don’t recognize the rights of a cohabitator (unless you are registered as a domestic partner for medical insurance purposes). Anything that is jointly held with you will pass to you, but if the house you live in is in their name alone, it will be passed on to relatives.
Having a loved one’s estate put through the court system to get hashed out is stressful may lead to months or years of limbo. Hire a probate lawyer to help you get things figured out sooner rather than later.