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Intestate Estate

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What Is an Intestate Estate?

An intestate estate refers to an estate or portions of an estate that aren’t covered by a valid will. Without a valid will containing instructions on how to distribute the property, the deceased person’s property will usually have to be distributed according to state probate laws. In most cases, an intestate estate arises because the person didn’t create a will while they were alive. In legal terms, passing away without a valid will is called “intestacy.”

Does a Will Completely Eliminate the Possibility of an Intestate Estate?

While in most cases a valid will should prevent the existence of an intestate estate, there can be some instances where some portions of the estate aren’t covered by a will. 

For example, the estate holder may have obtained some property right before they passed away. If the property doesn’t fit into any of the provisions mentioned in their will, there may be confusion as to who should receive that property item.

What Does “Intestate Succession” Mean?

In most cases, an intestate estate will need to be distributed through probate according to “intestate succession” laws. These laws govern the order of priority in terms of who receives estate distributions first. Generally speaking, the person’s surviving spouse is granted priority and will receive distributions first. This is usually followed by the children, and after that any close relatives or friends. Intestate succession laws may be very different from state to state. 

How Can Intestate Estate Be Avoided?

Intestate estate is generally something that should be avoided. The division of property according to intestate succession and probate laws can often yield results that may be one-sided, or that don’t completely fulfill the wishes of the deceased person. 

Although there may be some shortcomings, having a valid will in place is the most effective way to ensure that intestate estates are avoided. Another option would be to utilize a power of attorney or an estate administrator. These are people who are entrusted to oversee the person’s estate upon death, and who are knowledgeable of the estate holder’s intentions regarding property distributions. This will help ensure that the property distributions are properly monitored at the appropriate time.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Intestate Estate Laws?

Intestacy can often result from a failure to plan ahead. It can also happen that a person becomes incapacitated prior to death and is unable to review or create their will. You may wish to hire an estate lawyer if you have any questions, concerns, or legal disputes involving intestate estate laws. Your attorney can help ensure that your legal documents are in order and that they cover the entirety of your estate.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 10-03-2016 09:14 PM PDT

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