What happens when someone dies without a Will and they have no living blood relatives?

UPDATED: Aug 25, 2011

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What happens when someone dies without a Will and they have no living blood relatives?

My blood uncle died 9 years ago leaving his wife; the only aunt I ever thought of as an aunt. She just died (2 weeks ago) with no Will, but there was a small life insurance policy ($1500) found that had my older sister and I as beneficiaries. My aunt has no living blood relatives. She had a bank account and a house. My mom and her sister (my aunt’s sister-in-laws) are trying to lay claim to everything. Would my sister and I have any rights?

Asked on August 25, 2011 Kentucky


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

When someone dies without a Will they are said to have died "intestate". All states have enacted laws to deal with such a situation. These laws are call "intestacy statutes" and they provide for just how the deceased's estate will be divided; in other words, intestacy laws will determine who will inherit the property (heirs) and in what shares. Typically, an estate goes the spouse and children. If there are none, then to the next closest "kin" (i.e. blood relative).

If the deceased has no close living kin, intestacy laws provide mechanisms to determine other blood relatives qualified to take the estate. The fact is that there is a strong preference to distribute the deceased’s property to heirs, regardless of how remotely they may be related to the decedent. However, in those rare cases where no living heir can be located, then the decedent’s estate will "escheat" to the state. This means that the state takes ownership of the decedent’s property.

Therefore, as to any property for which beneficiaries are named, they will take their share; in this case you and you sister will split the life insurance proceeds. However, as to any other assets for which their are no designated beneficiaries, since your "aunt" died without any living relatives, the state of her domicile will take control. That is unless there is some long, lost relative of hersw that is tracked down; in which case they would inherit as your aunt's legal heir.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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