If You Die Without a Will

For individuals who have not signed a valid will during their lifetime, at death they have died intestate. Intestacy is a legal term for individuals who die without wills. The property titled in the deceased person’s name passes according to the laws of the deceased's state of residence at the time of his or her death.

Each state, including Indiana, has unique laws of intestate distribution. Although some differences exist among the many states, generally the children of an unmarried person will inherit their parent’s property in equal shares. If an unmarried person dies without a will and without children, intestacy laws often pass the deceased’s property to his or her parents.

In the case of married individuals, only a portion of the property owned by the deceased will pass to the surviving spouse, and the remaining portion will pass to the deceased’s children. If the deceased has no children, this remaining portion will pass to the parents of the deceased.

Finally, in the case where the deceased has no surviving spouse, no children and no grandchildren, or surviving parents, the deceased’s property will pass to his or her brothers and sisters.  And if there are no brothers and sisters of the deceased, the property passes to more distant relatives who are related by blood (also known as consanguinity). The precise division of property among these more distant relatives is governed by technical rules using the principles of “per capita” or “per stirpes” distribution.

Many people have heard or believe that the state will inherit all of their property if they die without a will. However, this is generally not true because in most cases the deceased has some surviving blood relatives. But, in the rare case where there are no surviving blood relatives, the property will go to the state. This is known as property escheating to the state government.

Although the will written by your state legislature in the form of its intestacy laws provides a mechanism to distribute your property, it is nevertheless wise to prepare your will. Doing so allows you to choose the relatives, friends, or charities you wish to receive your assets. Our law firm is qualified and experienced to advise and assist you in the drafting of your will and related estate planning documents. Wisely developed estate plans include powers of attorney, appointments of health care representative, and living wills.