Posted on November 28, 2018

Who Are the Beneficiaries When Someone Dies Without a Will?

A will contains beneficiaries – i.e. a list of the people who will receive the decedent’s estate. If someone dies without a will then there is no list. In that situation who is going to receive the decedent’s property?

A quick note… Most people think the answer to this question is the state. That’s wrong in almost all cases. Instead there are statutes that provide instructions as to who the beneficiaries of an intestate estate will be.

Here are some highlights of the intestate shares people get:

  • The surviving spouse gets part or all of the estate.
  • The children get some of the estate if the surviving spouse isn’t their parent.
  • The children get everything if there was no surviving spouse left behind.
  • If there is no surviving spouse or children (or grandchildren or great grandchildren) then the surviving parent(s) would get everything.
  • The parents may get something if there are no children but there is a surviving spouse.
  • If there is no surviving spouse or children (or grandchildren or great grandchildren) or parents then it could go to siblings, then grandparents, then aunts and uncles then cousins, etc.
  • If there is absolutely no one related to receive the proceeds from the decedent’s estate then it is possible for the money to escheat to the state but that’s very rare and highly unlikely.

The way the intestacy statutes work is pretty amazing. In most situations the beneficiaries of an intestate estate would be the same people who would have been beneficiaries if there had been a will. So rest easy – all is not lost if someone dies without a will. Instead the proceeds from the estate will pass to the decedent’s heirs in the manner prescribed by statute and that’s usually not so bad.

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