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Law Offices of Nelson Chang
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Understand what dying intestate means for a loved one's estate

You knew that your loved one was getting older and was somewhat unhealthy, but you never expected them to pass away so suddenly. You and the rest of your family were doubly surprised when you discovered that they did not have a will.

Dying without a will means that a person has died intestate. When this happens, the laws of the state apply to the estate. These laws determine how the estate will be distributed. If your loved one has real estate or property in different states, then each state's laws will determine how it will be distributed.

How are assets divided if someone dies without a will and doesn't have a spouse?

If someone dies without a will and doesn't have a spouse, they will have an estate that will be distributed to people in their family. If they have no children, then the likelihood is that the estate will go to the parents (if they are living). If they are not, siblings or other descendants are next in line for distributions.

What happens if someone dies without a will but is married at the time?

If someone dies and is married at the time of death, then marital property generally goes directly to the spouse, whereas separate property is divided between parents, siblings and a spouse. If they were married and had children, then the entire estate would go to the surviving spouse in most cases. If the children are from another relationship, then it's normal to see half the estate go to the surviving spouse and the remaining assets divided among surviving children from other spouses or partners.

What happens if someone dies when they're not married but in a relationship?

This is a more difficult situation. Intestacy laws don't recognize girlfriends or boyfriends, fiancés or fiancées. Without a will, there is a high likelihood that the estate won't go to those people, and they will be left depending on the kindness of relatives if they'd like any portion of the estate.

It can be hard to handle a situation where a loved one dies intestate, especially when there are complex issues like live-in partners or children from other relationships. It's smart to discuss the case with an attorney to determine how to handle probate and the court as a plan is developed to help pay back creditors and distribute any remaining assets from your loved one's estate.

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