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What Happens To Your Property If You Don’t Have A Will?

When a decedent has not made a will, they have died “intestate,” meaning their property is subject to distribution to their legal heirs under Arizona state law. The process is similar to estate probate, being carried out by an appointed representative under court supervision.

The laws regarding intestate succession determine who are the heirs to the decedent. Spouses and children are often heirs. If an individual dies while married and has no children, the surviving spouse inherits all the property. If there were only children of that marriage, the surviving spouse still inherits all the property. If an individual had children but no spouse, then the children inherit the property.

Last Will & Testament

The situation is different when the decedent had children from a prior marriage or relationship. In that case, the surviving spouse inherits half of the decedent’s separately owned property but none of the decedent’s portion of community property. The children inherit the decedent’s interest in community property and the remaining half of the decedent’s separate property.

If a decedent had no children or spouse, the succession process becomes more complicated, potentially involving parents, siblings, grandparents and other qualified blood relatives. Their shares are determined by their relationship to the decedent and by how many heirs qualify for distribution. If the decedent has no blood relatives with a valid claim, then the estate goes to the state of Arizona.

Intestate succession controls distribution of property that would have been subject to the probate process had a will been executed. This includes individually owned bank accounts, personal property and real property. Property that was held as a joint tenancy with right of survivorship is not included, since that property passes to the surviving joint owners automatically. The same is true of community property held by spouses, but the spouses must title that property as being held with a right of survivorship. Finally, any financial instruments with a payable-on-death order, transfer-on-death order or a named beneficiary (such as insurance policy) are also exempt from intestate succession.

It is clear that without a will, you lose a great deal of control over how your property will pass upon your death. To learn more about how Jeffrey P. Hall, PLLC, can assist you with your estate planning issues in the Phoenix metropolitan area, call us at 480-409-5174 or contact us online for a free consultation.