If you die without leaving a will or testament, this is called intestacy. If this happens, the laws of your state may decide how your property is distributed. This will not be up to you or your family.

Many people believe that they can avoid probate if they die without a will. This is the legal process of distributing your property following your death. Even if there is no will, probate court may still be required to distribute your property. This process could also be known as estate administration.

Different laws apply to intestacy. Some states allow you to pass your property through a family chain, beginning with your spouse. In others, a portion of your estate can be divided between your relatives.

What you need to know about dying in the afterlife and how to prevent it.

What happens if I die intestate?

  • Your property might not pass to your descendants unless your state probate court names an administrator to handle it. The government must create a will for your benefit. This is known as an administration proceeding. This could also occur for assets not directly addressed in your will. It’s important to make sure you don’t leave anything out.

  • Your state will determine where and how your estate is distributed.

  • The estate administration can be challenged by your family. This process can be costly and time-consuming. Your assets could end up in the hands of someone you don’t know.

  • Probate fees may be required for your estate. Your beneficiaries may be left with less assets. Your estate taxes may also be affected if you die intestate. You may be able reduce estate taxes by planning ahead.

Make a will to avoid the possibility of your loved ones dying without a testament. This can be done with an attorney, or online.

What are the state’s intestacy laws?

Each state has its intestacy laws. These determine the order of succession (or inheritance) for your assets, if you haven’t left a will.

In general, succession falls in the following order: a surviving spouse and direct descendants, including children and grandchildren, parents, siblings and nephews and nieces, grandparents and aunts, uncles, and cousins. The percentage that is distributed to each person may vary and blended families can make it more difficult.

These are the intestacy laws for four states with the highest population. Each state has its own regulations.

  • California, along with Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada and New Mexico, Texas (Washington), Washington, and Idaho, is a state that has community property. This means that a spouse inherits all assets even if there are no descendants. If there are biological children, the spouse inherits half of the community property (assets acquired during the marriage) as well as one-half to one-third (assets purchased prior to the marriage), depending upon the number of children who will inherit the remainder.

  • New York follows a similar succession system. However, if there are a spouse and children, the spouse will inherit the first $50,000 plus half the assets. The remainder is passed on to the children. Children who die first will inherit the remainder.

  • If there are biological children in Florida, the estate is still owned by the surviving spouse. If the deceased had children from another marriage, the estate will be divided in half between the spouses and the children.

  • Texas law states that if the spouse and parents are not alive, they inherit half the separate real property, the remaining property, and the community property. If the spouse has children the spouse inherits one-third the separate property and real estate, as well as the community property. The remainder is passed to the children. The community property is half inherited by children whose parents are not related to the deceased.

See the dropdown below for the intestacy laws of all 50 states.

Where do I find intestacy laws for my particular state?