Intestate

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Intestate

Dying without a will or having left a will that is defective in form.

An intestate decedent’s property passes to the heirs according to the laws of descent (intestate succession) in the state where such real property is located.

These laws of descent vary from state to state and determine who is entitled to the decedent’s property, which then must pass through probate in the state.

Descent laws do not affect the distribution of jointly held property (Joint Tenancy) or life insurance proceeds.

State laws of descent vary greatly: in some states, an unmarried person’s estate passes to the deceased’s parents; in other states, the decedent’s parents may have to share the estate with the intestate person’s lineal brothers and sisters.

A married person’s property may pass to the spouse and children or descendants of children in varying shares; if the deceased left no children or descendants of same, the surviving spouse may be the sole heir in some states or may have to share with the decedent’s parents in others.

Many states allow a surviving spouse to take a special marital share of the estate, such as dower, curtesy, or an elective share. In states that recognize community property, a surviving spouse legally owns one-half of all community property, so it is only the half-interest owned by the decedent that passes to his or her heirs according to the state laws of descent.

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