What Happens to Property When Someone Dies Without a Will?
May 24, 2021

Estate settlement can get complicated, especially when someone dies without creating a will. In cases where there is no will, Intestate Succession laws determine who has rights to the deceased’s assets.

It is also important to note that some assets are not passed onto others through a will. These assets include life insurance proceeds, any property or assets held jointly, IRA or retirement funds, etc. Basically, any kind of co-owned property or property with an established beneficiary designation are not passed on through a will.  The beneficiary designation controls where who they pass to.

Keep on reading to learn more about what happens to solely owned property when someone dies without a will.


How Intestate Succession Works

 Intestate succession is defined as the order of succession in which heirs will gain rights to a deceased person’s property. Each state has its own set of laws regarding intestate succession and will often assign an administrator to carry out the case and ensure that the deceased person’s estate is divided equally.


How An Administrator Comes Into Play

The Administrator is chosen from a list of qualified people that are reviewed in a court proceeding. An administrator must remain impartial throughout the process. Each state has laws regarding the appointment of an administrator. Administrators could be a surviving spouse, children or relatives of the deceased person (providing they are at least 18 years old), creditors, etc.

In most cases, the most prioritized heir to the estate and properties in the intestate succession is the surviving spouse. The second prioritized are the children, with the third being other relatives. 


How Parties Involved Are Defined

 The definition of the different beneficiaries is essential to distinguish. There are times when an erroneous claim is made, and an individual doesn’t qualify to become an heir of a deceased person after all. Be sure to contact a probate attorney to consult on if you can make a claim.

Here are some terms to take note of when dealing with intestate succession.

  • Surviving Spouse. A spouse refers to any partner, both opposite-sex and same-sex, to who a deceased person had been married. There are some exceptions as certain states can accept domestic or live-in partners to earn privileges similar to those of a spouse. In case of separation or potential divorce, a judge will provide a verdict of their eligibility to be a spouse.
  • A child refers to a direct descendant of the deceased person. This includes children who were taken in through legal adoption, children who were born after their parent’s death (in some states), and children who were born to unmarried parents. Foster and stepchildren are often excluded depending on the state and the circumstances surrounding their relationship.
  • Relatives refer to the deceased person’s family members. This can include closer relatives like brothers, sisters, and half-siblings. However, it can also extend to more distant relatives like aunts, uncles, and cousins.


So, Who Inherits Property If No Will?

Intestate succession laws will determine how the estate is divided in the absence of a will, and the court has the final say about who will become administrator. Speak with an attorney about your eligibility to make a claim regarding the current state laws in place.

Need a wills and estates lawyer in Pennsylvania? Daley Zucker offers experienced attorneys in Harrisburg who are ready to handle cases regarding estate planning, elder law, family law, and more. Contact us today!

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