Laws of Intestate Succession

laws of Intestate succession by state
Elizabeth Weiss

By Elizabeth Weiss | Feb 27th, 2020

When someone dies without a valid will, this circumstance is known as intestate. The deceased’s property then passes to their heirs according to the law through a process called intestate succession. How that process plays out varies by state.

What Is Intestate Succession?

In the simplest of terms, if a person doesn’t have a will, the state in which that individual lived essentially creates a will for them through the intestate process. Through intestate succession, a person’s wealth is distributed in a way that the average person might have designated their assets to be distributed. 

The most likely candidates to inherit from an estate per the terms of intestate succession are typically as follows: surviving spouse, descendants (starting with children, then grandchildren, and so on), parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. 

candidates to inherit from an estate per the terms of intestate succession

Each state has their own set of intestacy laws which are in charge when it comes to determining heirs, though the matter is not always simple. Sometimes the state where the deceased resided determines his or her heirs. If the decedent’s physical property was in a different state at the time of their death, that state’s intestacy laws may take precedence.  

What Is the Law of Intestate Succession?

The law of intestate succession is a series of laws and statutes unique to each state that explain how the deceased person’s property and accounts will be divided and distributed. This law tells the heirs who gets what part of the estate after debts, claims, taxes, and administrative costs have been covered.

If your loved one died intestate, you may believe that as a family member you are the right person to determine what their wishes might have been for the distribution of money, property, or jewelry. The state, however, doesn’t take any chances. Not every family can deal amicably with the passing of one of its own. In the absence of a will, the state divvies up a person’s real property and personal property.

In the absence of a will, the law of intestate succession takes precedence. Even if you knew what the decedent’s wishes were upon their death, if a valid will does not exist there are no legal exceptions to the situation. Here are some examples of how intestate law works in different states: 

Texas Intestate SuccessionLaw

When a person living in Texas dies without leaving a will, their estate is automatically entered into Texas’s intestacy probate process. The Texas probate code dictates how the deceased’s probate property is then dispersed. The probate process will ensure that the deceased bills and debts are paid out of the estate and once that has been taken care of, the balance of the estate will be distributed to the beneficiaries according to the law. 

When the deceased person is survived by direct family, including a spouse, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, or siblings, their estate is divided based on decreasing levels of connection to the deceased. Here are a few common scenarios: 

Florida Intestate SuccessionLaw

When a Florida resident passes away without writing a will, it results in the process of intestate succession. Florida Probate Code will dictate who inherits the deceased person’s probate estate according to certain circumstances. The following are Florida’s laws regarding intestate succession:

California Intestate Succession Law

When a California resident passes away without writing a will, the state determines inheritors through California’s probate code. Even if the decedent is not a California resident but just owns real estate there, the California Probate Code intestate succession laws dictate who inherits the belongings. California intestacy laws dictate the following: 

Not survived by parents or close relative- the estate would be then be passed to nieces and nephews, then grandparents, great aunts/uncles and so on. In the unlikely circumstance that the deceased person is not survived by any of the aforementioned individuals, the entire probate estate will escheat to the State of California.

Elizabeth Weiss

Elizabeth Weiss

Elizabeth Weiss is a freelance writer and content marketing writer living in Maryland. Learn more about her at

succession by state

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