Intestate, a term often heard in legal contexts, refers to an individual dying without a valid will or testament in place. 

When a person passes intestate, the laws of intestacy determine the distribution of their assets, estate, and property.

These vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 

This concept is crucial to understand, as it may have legal and financial implications for the deceased’s heirs and beneficiaries.

Key Concepts In Intestacy

The key concepts are:

Intestate Succession: 

The laws of intestacy govern the distribution of a deceased person’s assets. 

These laws typically establish a hierarchy of potential heirs who are entitled to inherit from the deceased’s estate. 

The specific order of succession varies depending on the jurisdiction.

But commonly includes surviving spouses, children, parents, and siblings.

Surviving Spouse’s Share: 

In many jurisdictions, a surviving spouse is entitled to a significant portion of the deceased’s estate, often referred to as the “spousal share.” 

The size of this share varies depending on the jurisdiction.

But it typically includes a portion of real property and personal assets.

Children’s Inheritance: 

Children are typically next in line to inherit in the absence of a will. 

If the deceased had children, but no surviving spouse, the estate is divided among the children. 

If there is a surviving spouse, the children may share the estate with the spouse.

Parents And Siblings: 

In the absence of a spouse or children, the estate may pass to the deceased’s parents or, in some cases, to their siblings. 

The order of priority can differ from one jurisdiction to another.

Distribution Of Assets: 

When there are multiple heirs entitled to a portion of the estate, the laws of intestacy define how the assets are divided. 

This process can vary widely based on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the case.

Guardianship For Minors: 

If the deceased had minor children and no surviving spouse, the laws of intestacy often designate a guardian to care for the children’s well-being.

Also, it manages their inheritance until they reach the age of majority.

Personal Representative: 

In intestate cases, a personal representative is typically appointed by the court to manage the estate.

It also includes paying debts and distributing assets to the heirs as per the laws of intestacy.

Avoiding Intestacy

To prevent intestacy and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, it’s essential to create a valid will.

A will allows you to specify your beneficiaries, the distribution of your assets, and the appointment of an executor to handle your estate.

Regularly updating your will is also crucial, especially during major life changes such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of children.

It helps to know more about the importance of intestacy.

Example 1: Sarah’s Intestate Situation


Sarah is a 45-year-old single woman living in California. She owns a house and a car and has a substantial savings account. She has never created a will or any estate planning documents.


Unfortunately, Sarah unexpectedly passes away in a car accident. Since she didn’t have a will, her estate becomes intestate. In California, the state’s laws of intestacy will come into play. According to these laws, her assets will be distributed as follows:

Her parents, who are both alive, inherit a portion of her estate.

The remainder of her estate may be divided among her siblings if she has any.

If Sarah has no surviving parents or siblings, her estate may go to more distant relatives, such as aunts, uncles, or cousins.

The distribution of Sarah’s assets would be determined by the specific laws in California, which outline the order of priority for intestate heirs.