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What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

Even though most people who live in the United States have at least some basic knowledge of the estate planning process, over 60% of Americans don’t have a will. This means that every day thousands of people pass away without having outlined what they want to happen to their assets after their death. So what happens if you die without a will in the United States? How is the transfer of property after death without a will conducted? A related key concern for many people is the transfer of real estate ownership after death. When a spouse dies, who gets the house? In this article, we will attempt to answer these and other questions.

Transfer of Property When Someone Dies Without a Will

Passing away without a legal will is called dying intestate. If a person passes away intestate, their estate is not immediately passed down to the relatives. Instead, all of their assets are frozen until the estate can go through the intestacy process. During this process, a court will decide how the assets will be distributed and who will be in charge of handing them over to the beneficiaries in accordance with state law. So if you pass away without creating a legal last will and testament, the laws of your state will determine who will inherit your savings, property, and personal effects.

In cases of intestacy, a court will appoint an executor of the estate. This is the person in charge of distributing someone’s assets after that person passes away. Unfortunately, if someone doesn’t leave a will, they don’t have any influence over the choice of the estate executor. Traditionally, the spouse or children of the deceased will be asked to take on the role. But if they are unable or unwilling to serve, or if the deceased simply doesn’t have any surviving relatives, the court could appoint a public trustee for the role.

Many people don’t bother creating a will because they assume that their surviving spouse will automatically receive all their assets after their death. However, this is only the case in about 15 states. In other jurisdictions, the surviving spouse may inherit anywhere from one-third to one-half of the assets, while the deceased individual’s children will get the rest. If the deceased doesn’t have any surviving children or other close relatives besides a spouse, the spouse will most likely get all the assets.

At the same time, there are many cases when a spouse may lose their right of inheritance for one reason or another. For example, some prenuptial and postnuptial agreements may specify that the surviving spouse will not inherit certain assets after the other person’s death. A person may also lose the right to inherit their spouse’s assets if the couple was in the process of getting a divorce, even if their husband or wife passed away before the divorce was finalized. If someone was legally considered to have abandoned their spouse before death, meaning that they refused to pay for their spouse’s basic needs such as food, clothes, or medical expenses even though they had the ability to do so, they may also lose their right to inheritance. Furthermore, if you are in a common-law marriage, your partner is much less likely to automatically receive your assets if you pass away.

In addition to this, if you pass away without a will, then your money, pets, and other assets may go to people whom you wouldn’t want to inherit your property. And even if you’re okay with having the court decide who will get your estate after your death, the intestacy process is usually long and stressful, so it can put an additional unwanted emotional and financial burden on your loved ones.

Dying Without a Will in Different States

As mentioned above, various states have different intestacy laws. Let’s take a brief look at the laws and regulations in some of the largest states:

New York
New York

In the state of New York, a surviving spouse will usually inherit at least one-third of the deceased spouse’s estate. However, if the deceased doesn’t have any children, the surviving spouse will get 100% of the deceased person’s assets. If the deceased does have surviving children, the spouse will get first $50,000 and one-half of the remaining estate, while the rest of the estate will be split evenly between all children of the deceased. It’s also important to note that in New York the surviving spouse can inherit up to $92,500 as the priority payee over almost all other beneficiaries and creditors of the deceased.


In Florida, the surviving spouse gets 100% of the estate if the deceased doesn’t have any children. If the deceased only had children with that same surviving spouse, the surviving spouse will get first 60,000 dollars plus one-half of the remaining estate. Finally, if the deceased had children with someone other than the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse gets one-half of the estate.

Read more about creating an online will in Florida.


In California, all property owned by a person falls under one of two categories: separate and community property. Community property refers to assets owned by the two spouses jointly. When one of the spouses dies, the other automatically inherits their share of communal assets. On the other hand, separate property is property received by just one of the spouses during the marriage. This property is inherited by the children or siblings of the deceased. If there aren’t any, then the surviving spouse will inherit these assets.

Read more about creating an online last will and testament in California.

Intestacy Laws Regarding Mortgages

So far, we’ve talked about who inherits your assets if you die without a will. But another question that many are asking is, “what happens to my mortgage if I die?”

In most cases, the surviving spouse will become the sole owner of the property and be responsible for paying off the joint mortgage after the death of a spouse. If there’s a co-borrower or co-signer on a joint mortgage, that person automatically becomes responsible for the loan after the other co-borrower’s death. However, even if you’re the sole borrower on a mortgage, your surviving spouse will still most likely inherit the mortgage and the property. Keep in mind that if you don’t have a spouse and are the sole borrower on a mortgage, your other relatives will not be forced to continue making payments on your loan, although they will have the right to take it over if they assume ownership of the home.

Intestacy Rules Regarding Pets and Dependants

If the parent of a minor child passes away without a will, the other parent of the child will usually assume guardianship. However, if the child doesn’t have another parent or if the parent is unfit to take on the role, another adult can become the guardian of the child. The court will generally select a willing adult relative to fulfill this role.

If you have a pet at the time of your passing, it will go to a shelter if none of your relatives want to take care of the animal. To prevent this from happening, you should make a will and include a clause naming one or several beneficiaries as the new owners of your beloved pet.

Reasons Why You Should Have a Will

Even a simple but legally valid will can solve multiple issues. First of all, the document will ensure that your assets are distributed to the people you love in accordance with your wishes. It will also guarantee that someone you trust is appointed as the executor of your estate. A will can also help make certain that your pets, children, and other dependents are well taken care of if you die. Finally, a last will and testament will confirm that your final wishes regarding funeral arrangements are respected.

Final Thoughts About Dying Without a Will

Passing away without a will can create many problems for your surviving relatives and cause your estate to go to people you wouldn’t choose yourself. To prevent this from happening, you should make sure that you have at least a basic will made in case something happens. Thankfully, online will-making services make creating a will a quick, simple, and affordable process.