No Will? No Kids? Order of inheiritance would be....?

If an unmarried, childless adult dies without a will, what is the order of inheiritance? Who gets what they leave? Is it evenly split? Is it different in different states? Who is a closer relative…siblings who share all your DNA (sorta), or parents who only share half? If I die before both my parents and my two sisters, do they all split it equally? What about the fact that my sisters are my half-sisters? What if my sisters had kids? What about grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles? What degree of being related is necessary to lay claim to my estate? Do courts take the emotional connections into account (meaning, sisters and parents may share equally, but I never knew my sisters to speak of because they were so much older. Or we hate each other. Would the court care?)



It varies by state. If you die intestate, emotional considerations usually count for little. The probate court will just go through its chart and find the nearest relative. I think siblings rank higher than parents in most states.

Since you can write your own will in a hour or so unless you happen to be Bill Gates, it’s time well-spent if you don’t want your annoying brother-in-law to make off with your estate.

If you do that, at least get some web advice or a write your own will book. Nothing worse than a will that’s contested because the witnesses were underage or some such technicality.

It differs from state to state. Here are the links to the probate codes for Texas and Pennsylvania, as examples.

California is governed by Probate Code §§6400-6414. You will note that they go to the point of defining as the last category issue of the parents of a predeceased spouse. You have to work REALLY hard in CA to find someone intestate with no heirs at all… :wink:

Thank you, DS… and legal codes are so obnoxious to read. “issue” - please.

Interestingly, reading that, I would be very curious about what would happen to my estate if I outlived my sisters and parents and never got around to marrying Pump Action Gerbil. Both of my parents are only children, and my sisters, like me, are childless. So to get to a relative, they would have to find people that even I do not know. My maternal granfather had a sister who died childless, and my maternal grandmother was an only child. So that leaves my paternal grandmother’s sisters children, which makes them some version of cousin to me, and their children as well, but I have no clue who they are or where they are.

How strange.

I see another GQ…

There are people who specialize in tracking down heirs. I would imagine that they work on commission.

At work, the genealogy librarian has a copy of a chart used in the state of Illinois to determine consanguinity. It stops at fourth cousins four times removed.

I want extra credit for using the word “consanguinity”.

I always thought that if no legally close enough relatives were found, the State got it.

There was a case some years back here in Mid Michigan. A guy lived at the YMCA. (very cheap lodging), local folks thought he was nearly indigent- he wore the same coat, hat, clothes, never bathed. Never. Really. I worked at the Y at the time (That was where the correction center was) and if he’d been on the elevator within the prior half hour, you knew it. really rancid.

He died, in the room, body found some days later.

All sorts of information came out after that - his daily routine included going to a local cafe and ordering breakfast (one to eat there, one to go) he’d stick his egg/sausage sandwich into his coat pocket, had a post office box, boxes and boxes of newspapers in his room etc.

and, lots of letters. From a bank. Where he had, on deposit, millions of dollars. State appointed an executor of the will, who set about looking for heirs, found a distant cousin several states away.
Re: your dillema Stoid, the perfect solution , of course, is to name me as heir. :smiley:

This, too, varies by state. States that impose limitations have what are referred to as “Laughing Heirs” statutes which cut off the search for heirs at some degree of relation. However, Virginia has no laughing heir statute, so you can score some cash from some relative you never know and might have hated if you met him.

(Putting an extra ten credits in BobT’s account for the use of consanguinity. Now if only he can manage to put it on a triple word square… :wink:

Will or not, the order of inheritance always begins with Uncle Sam :slight_smile:

The way it usually works is to go to the previous generation and distribute to any surviving heirs. If there aren’t any you go one further step from parents to grandparents then great grandparents and so on. As was pointed out, most states have escheat rules that limit the number of generations they will go up.

Distribution to the heirs is fixed by the rules of the jurisdiction and can be quite varied. The standard rules of distribution can create odd outcomes at this level. To illustrate, if I outlive my children and die intstate with 5 grandchildren they will usually get a portion of what their parent would have gotten. So the only child could get half the estate while the family of 4 each gets 12.5%. Applying this from 4 sets of great grandparents could lead to what some would see as irrational results.

It’s not worth much, but you would have to use all seven letters.

Stoid. you can always look at books from Nolo Press, they are a law firm & they write wonderful books for just about any personal law matter there is, especially for California. I think their website is

While that’s somewhat true in a general sense, it definitely needs to be expanded upon a bit. First, a “holographic” (handwritten and unwitnessed) will is only valid in a minority of states (including Texas). So even if you do draw up your own will, make certain you get it properly witnessed and such according to the rules of your home state. If a will ain’t properly executed, it’s a nullity, meaning your estate will be distributed according to your state’s rules of intestate succession or possibly an earlier, validly executed will.

Second, if you have any sort of sizable estate, sound estate planning is highly recommended. You can significantly reduce the tax liability for your estate, as well as enusure that your intended bequests don’t get screwed up by any of a thousand little legal pitfalls or unforeseen circumstances (like a devisee kicking the bucket before you do).