What to do if there is no will
When a person dies without a will, he or she is said to die intestate. Because the person did not have a will, no executor is named inside. Instead, the court will appoint an administrator, whose duties are similar to those of an executor’s. Instead of following a will, the administrator will follow the law of intestate succession applicable in the state. Since the steps are similar, you can use this site for help in the estate administration.
If a person dies without a will, he/she is said to have died intestate. When this happens, the probate court turns to intestacy rules to determine who inherits the assets of the estate.
Intestacy rules vary from state to state. You should always consult an attorney or the local probate court if you need to determine the intestacy rules for your particular area.
Generally speaking, intestacy rules distribute an estate’s assets to family members. Spouses and children usually inherit first under intestacy rules. If there are no spouses and/or children, next levels of relatives are considered such as living parents. There will likely be a certain point of relation at which the laws state if no relative is found within the listed relative levels (children, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc.), the person is said to die without relations. If this is the case, the state where the decedent lived is generally the beneficiary of the estate.
While intestacy rules most often apply to those who do not write a will, this is not always the case. Under certain circumstances, a person may die leaving a will but the intestacy rules will still govern part or all of the estate distribution. For example, if a will is not properly written in accordance with the laws of the particular state, even if the decedent thought he/she wrote a will, he/she may have in fact died intestate and therefore intestacy rules would apply.
There may also be assets left in an estate that are not mentioned in a will and need to be distributed. In a case like this, intestacy rules would apply. Also, a will might be contested and if a court finds the will is invalid and there is no other will on which to rely, the intestacy rules would govern the distribution of the estate’s assets. Finally, someone may write a will stating it is their wish for assets in their estate to be distributed according to the laws of the state in which that person lives. While the will still applies, the executor would need to know the intestacy rules to be able to determine the beneficiaries.