Intestate succession refers to the laws of your state that apply when someone dies without leaving behind a valid Last Will and Testament. Intestate succession laws can also apply if estate assets remain after all bequests found it the Will have been satisfied and there is no residual clause in the Will. Understanding the concept of intestate succession can be important when deciding whether or not to execute a Will.
The term “intestate” simply means that the decedent died without leaving behind a valid Will. If a Will was left behind, but later determined by the court to be invalid, the laws of intestate succession will apply as if the Will never existed. Unlike a Will, where you may name anyone you choose as a beneficiary under the Will, intestate succession laws look to legal heirs of your estate in order to decide who will receive the assets that make up your estate.
Although individual state laws will vary somewhat with regard to the order of inheritance and the percentage of the estate that each heir inherits, there are some commonalities. In most states, your spouse and children are first in line to inherit. Some states now include a domestic partner; however, that addition is still rare. How the estate is divided between the spouse and children can vary significantly from one state to the next. If there is no spouse or children, or if estate assets remain after they have received their share, then intestate succession laws typically look to other blood relatives such as grandchildren, parents or siblings and so on until all the estate assets have been transferred to heirs.