What Happens If No Will

Probate has been defined as the general administration of a deceased person's Will or the estate property of a deceased person without a Will.  If you have a Will, there various options for handling your estate property after death that will be available to your spouse, family or other representatives. If a person dies without a Will (or a Will is invalid or fails to convey all of one’s property), the options are limited and the process of transferring the property may become more complex and costly.


The estate may need to be probated, depending on (1) the size of the deceased’s estate and (2) what property is a part of the estate.  If the estate is small and meets other strict requirements, a small estate affidavit or even an affidavit of heirship may be a possibility.


In addition, some of the decedent’s property may pass without the need for probate, because it is not a part of the probate estate. These are generally items that already have clearly designated beneficiaries other than the decedent’s estate (examples, might be life insurance, pay on death accounts, retirement accounts, deeds to real estate that make the transfer on death.)


However, when there is no Will (or a Will is invalid or fails to convey all of one’s property), the deceased person is said to have died intestate as to that their property passes under the laws of descent and distribution. The heirship is established by Probate Court application and hearing resulting in a  judgment declaring heirship. The judgement simply declares who the heirs are according to the evidence presented. The Court  does not order a physical division or partition of property among the heirs or tell the heirs how to live together in jointly owned property.  

And remember: A judgment declaring heirship and the heirship chart below says WHO will inherit; a marketable title often requires more.  A surviving spouse may assume that since she and the deceased owned the house together she automatically receives the title without taking any action and can sell it. But more may be required by the buyer and a title company.


Please see the excellent intestate distribution chart for married persons below that is found at You can also see the chart for unmarried persons there. 

Thank you.


 Marvin Champlin