When a person dies without a will, or if there is an invalid will, that person’s estate passes into intestacy. Intestacy entails that the state in which the person was residing will assume responsibility for distributing the intestate estate to any relevant individuals, doing its best to approximate what that person’s will might have been had one been created. This may sound like a good thing, but often the process of distribution through the state diminishes the estate significantly, and it may distribute assets in a wildly different manner than the deceased person would have wanted.
One of the main reasons why having the state distribute an estate can be less than ideal is that the process does not feature mechanisms for making exceptions in the process for survivors who have special needs or difficult circumstances. Even in a case where the decedent’s wishes were made known but not properly fixed in a will, the state’s process remains coldly mathematical. If for instance, the decedent had intended for a piece of property to be left to an animal shelter for the purpose of creating an animal sanctuary, but proper arrangements were not made, the state would not make an exception in the distribution of the property.
Each state has its own variation on how property is distributed, but most states base their processes on the 1990 Uniform Probate Code. Under the code, intestate property is seized by the state, which then distributes it (sometimes very slowly) to relatives that are deemed “close” relatives first, then moving out in relational closeness. If there are no available relatives in the acceptable range to claim the property in the proper time frame, the estate is acquired by the state.
No matter who you are or how few relatives you may have, it is very unlikely that you want all of your earthly belongings to go to the state when you pass away. It is wise to create a will that ensures that if you pass away unexpectedly, the things you own go to those you intend. If you are ready to create your will, an experienced attorney can help you walk through the process and ensure that your rights remain protected.
Source: Findlaw, “Understanding Intestacy: If You Die Without an Estate Plan,” accessed Nov. 22, 2016