When a family member dies without a will, they have died “intestate.”
The distribution of an estate for someone who dies intestate occurs according to the rules of intestate succession.
What is the family situation?
Estate distribution depends on if the deceased had children, a spouse and other close living relatives when they died. The children inherit everything when there is no spouse. The spouse inherits everything if there are no living parents, children or siblings. If there is no spouse and no children or siblings, the parents inherit everything. The siblings inherit everything if there is no living spouse, children or parents.
What if there are many family members left behind?
The more family left behind, the more complicated the rules of succession become. For example, if there is a spouse and children, the spouse will get all community property, a third of the separate personal property and the right to real estate. The children will get everything else. However, if those children do not belong to the spouse, the spouse will get half of the community property, a third of the separate personal property and the right to real estate. The children will get everything else.
How can you avoid this type of distribution?
If you do not want your estate divided according to intestate succession rules and would prefer to make your own designations, create an estate plan. Write a will, set up a trust and name beneficiaries.
Only blood relatives and relatives through adoption are able to inherit from the intestate succession. If you want to leave any part of your estate to someone who is not a legal or blood relative, create an estate plan and officially designate them as a beneficiary.