Lawyers and the courts refer to a person who dies without a will as “dying intestate.” When you die intestate the state’s generic laws will apply and will direct the court on how to divide your estate.
In Missouri, for example, the laws for intestate estates set forth specific provisions that provide a surviving spouse with certain “exempt property,” a “one-year support allowance,” a “homestead allowance,” and, if applicable, a “family allowance.” After payment of claims and statutory allowances, the remainder of the estate is distributed:
- If there are no children, then your entire intestate estate would be distributed to your surviving spouse;
- If there are children, your surviving spouse receives the first $20,000 of the intestate estate plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate;
- Next, the remaining one-half of the balance of the intestate estate would be distributed equally to your children or their descendants (your grandchildren);
- If there are no children or their descendants, then your intestate estate would go to your father, mother, siblings or their descendants (your nieces and nephews) in equal shares;
- If none, then to your grandparents or aunt and uncles or their descendants in equal shares;
- If none, then to your great-grandparents or their descendants, and so on.
As you can see from the above, the law continues to set forth the classes of distant relatives who would inherit your estate if you died intestate. Most people’s estate falls within the first two or three groups listed above. In rare circumstances, if no family can be found, the estate is given to the state.
Intestate laws can be complicated if you have children with more than one person or have re-married.
These intestate rules would also apply if a court decided not to enforce your will because it did not follow the rules and formalities required under the law.