When an individual passes away without a valid last will and testament, they are said to be "intestate." This means that property will be divided based on the intestacy laws of the state in which they are located. For out of state property, the laws of the state in which the property is located will take precedence.
Property does not consist of only real estate. Property of an estate consists of real estate, vehicles, personal property, bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds and a multitude of other assets an individual may own at his or her time of death. The value of an estate is determined by the total sum of all of these, with a valuation based on present day markets.
In most cases, property is divided equally among immediate family members. If the decedent was unmarried but had children, each of them would receive an equal portion. If there are no children and no spouse, and the decedent's parents are still living, the estate would pass to the parents. In cases where none of these are true, property may pass to distant relatives who can be identified and located. If the decedent has no known living relatives, the entire estate would transfer to the care of the state, which would liquidate it at their discretion. These are only a few scenarios of distribution possibilities. The final distribution of an estate varies greatly depending on a decedent's family make-up.
Due to the confusion and uncertainty that can take place when a will has never been prepared, it is highly advisable that every party who owns assets of any kind take part in estate planning to ensure his or her wishes are carried out accordingly. An attorney can offer expert guidance in these matters giving both you and your family peace of mind for the future.