Handling the death of a loved one can be a very stressful and emotional time. Even more so when your loved one did not have a will or living will established. If your loved one dies before finalizing their will, this is commonly referred to as having died “intestate.” After their death, their assets will be distributed based on State laws and their estate will enter into probate.

If you believe you have a legal right to receive their assets or property, you will need to complete an application to petition the State for ownership. The exact proceedings or forms that must be submitted may vary depending on your loved one’s place of residence and/or where their assets reside, if in a different State.

In order to claim authority to distribute your loved one’s estate, you have to request “letters of administration” for the estate. In most cases, the court will appoint the next of kin, if available, to be the “administrator” of the estate and assume ownership of the assets. If a probate court process is needed, the court will often choose someone based on a predetermined relative priority list. Most states will give priority to living spouse or registered domestic partner first, then living adult children, followed by other family members. However, if a will was in place, the administrator of the estate would have been appointed by your loved one themselves, without the court having to be involved and selecting someone they deem to be fit to oversee the estate.

It is important to also understand that some assets are not automatically inherited by the administrator, even if they are the next of kin. Instead, the inheriting parties are identified on specific documents or policies that were established when the asset was secured. When your loved one dies without a will you may need outside help to determine who is entitled to inherit:

  • life insurance proceeds and payouts
  • real estate, bank accounts, and other assets held in joint accounts
  • property within in a living trust
  • Retirement or savings funds held in an IRA or 401(k) plan
  • Funds in a payable-on-death (POD) bank account
  • Stocks and investments held in specified transfer-on-death (TOD) accounts
  • Real estate, including timeshares and/or vehicles held with transfer-on-death (TOD) deeds and/or titles

The experienced family law attorneys at Wilson Brown Law can assist you in determining the best route to proceed should your loved one die without a will. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary interstate consultation today at (210) 787-4637.