Intestate succession is a complicated area of estate administration law. It becomes applicable to the estate of a deceased individual when that person passes away without having first executed a valid will. As our readers in New Jersey may know, a will is a legal document that a person may use to identify beneficiaries who will receive items of the decedent’s property once they have passed on.
If a decedent does not have a valid will in place when they die, the laws of intestacy may take over to govern intestate succession.
Generally, if a person dies without a will, the estate will pass to the spouse. This can change if the decedent had children from a relationship other than with their current spouse. If that is the case, then the spouse may be required to share the estate with those other heirs. If a spouse does not survive the decedent, then the decedent’s estate may go to the children.
If a decedent has no spouse and no children, the estate may pass to parents, if those individuals survive them. The estate would then next go to their siblings and those siblings’ descendants. Next, the estate would go to the decedent’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Intestate succession generally follows a decedent’s family tree until an heir is found, and this process may run contrary to the desires of an individual. As such, estate planning can help people avoid intestate succession by providing them with control over the disposition of their estates.