What Happens if a Loved One Dies Without a Will?

When you’re faced with the unexpected death of a loved one, a lack of a will complicates an already difficult situation immensely. If a relative dies without a will, a process called “intestate succession” is applicable. In these situations, the deceased’s assets go to their closest relatives. Your local attorney’s office will be a huge help in making sure you understand your rights when a loved one unexpectedly passes away. Here’s what you need to know if you’re faced with this challenging, but not necessarily unique, situation.

What should I do first?

Since intestacy succession laws govern the disposition of a decedent’s estate when they die without a will, the first thing you should do after the unexpected loss of a loved one is visit your local wills attorney’s office. Only an experienced attorney can give you legal advice regarding how to proceed in this situation.

How do intestacy succession laws work?

There are many considerations to take into account regarding Missouri intestacy succession laws. As always, visit your local attorney’s office and consult with a reputable will and probate law expert. The dispensation of the estate depends entirely on your relationship to the deceased as well as his or her surviving family members. You’ll likely find your personal situation described in one of the following scenarios:

  • Decedent dies with no surviving spouse or descendants: In this scenario, the estate would transfer to parents, siblings or descendants of siblings. If none of those relationships exist, the probate estate will go to grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles, great aunts or uncles. Parents, siblings or children of a predeceased spouse will have last priority. If no surviving family members can be found, the entire estate will escheat to the State of Missouri.
  • Decedent is survived by one or both parents and one or more siblings: Living parents and siblings equally inherit the deceased’s estate in this situation.
  • Decedent is survived by sibling(s) and no parents: Siblings of the deceased inherit the estate per stirpes.
  • Decedent is survived by a spouse and no descendants: The surviving spouse inherits the estate.
  • Decedent is survived by descendants and no spouse: Descendants inherit the estate per stirpes.
  • Decedent is survived by a spouse and descendants of the spouse: This is a complicated situation. The surviving spouse receives $20,000 of the probate estate along with half of the remaining balance, while the other half goes to the descendants, per stirpes.
  • Decedent is survived by a spouse and descendants from a prior relationship: This situation differs slightly from the previous one. The surviving spouse will inherit half of the probate estate, while the remaining half goes to the descendants, per stirpes.

If a loved one dies without a will, reach out to a local attorney’s office as soon as possible. It reduces stress and headaches on your part and ensures probate law is followed. Reach out to the team at Maynard & Joyce, LLC to discover more about the process of settling an estate, whether with a will or without.