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

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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

Answers:

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

Answered 10 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.


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