What happens if someone dies without a will?

Intestate means that one has died without creating a will. When this happens, the intestacy laws of the state where you reside will determine how your property is distributed upon your death. This includes any bank accounts, securities, real estate, and other assets you own at the time of death. Real estate owned in a different state than where you resided will be handled under the intestacy laws of the state where the property is located.

What happens to my property?

The laws of intestate succession vary greatly depending on whether you were single or married, or had children. In most cases, your property is distributed in split shares to your “heirs”, which could include your surviving spouse, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews, and distant relatives. Generally, when no relatives can be found, the entire estate goes to the state.

What the Court Will Do

Without a will to prove or a named personal representative to appoint, the Court turns to state law and:

  • Appoints a personal representative (in other states, called an “Administrator” (male) or “Administratrix” (female)) according to a prioritized list provided by law
  • The personal representative distributes decedent’s property in shares to a prioritized list of recipients, the “Heirs” or “Heirs-at-Law”, provided by law, who “take by inheritance” or “take by intestate succession.”


Attorney Robert Dickson

Attorney Robert DicksonThe core of Rob’s legal practice is civil litigation, with an emphasis on construction, real estate, and business law. He represents a wide range of clients, from large construction companies to individual homeowners. His is a practical approach to law, which strives to balance the need for a successful legal outcome with a client’s financial goals (or constraints). Outside of his private practice, Rob serves as an adjunct professor at the Seattle University School of Law where he teaches real estate litigation. [ Attorney Bio ]