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What Happens If a Person Dies Without a Will?

There is a common misunderstanding that if a person dies without a will that the estate will go to the state.  This is not true.  When a person dies and has assets in his or her name alone, the estate will be governed by the laws of intestacy.  The law of intestacy guesses who the decedent would have wanted to receive the assets.  The law guesses that decedents would want the estate to go to their closest family members.  If a person is married, the law assumes that the decedent would want part of it to go to the spouse and part to the children, if there are children.  The law treats the situation differently depending if the children are descendents of both spouses.


If is no spouse, the assumption is that the children would share equally.  If there are no children and no spouse, then it would go to parents, and then brothers and sisters.  The law goes on to describe more remote family members.

The law of intestacy may not be what the decedent would have wanted at all.  It is far better to plan who will receive an estate rather than leaving it to chance.