What happens to land if the owner dies with no heirs?

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What happens to land if the owner dies with no heirs?

If a person dies without a Will and without any heirs, what will happen to their house and land if it is owned free and clear? Is it possible for someone elso to purchase the property, and if so, what is the process?

Asked on September 23, 2010 under Estate Planning, South Carolina

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". Typically, in such a case, real estate (the "estate") is distributed according to the intestacy statute of the state in which the deceased owner was domiciled as of the date of their death. Usually this is to their surviving relatives (heirs) mainly domestic partners or children. If you live in a community property state, this would automatically pass to any living spouse.

However in the case where the deceased was the sole owner and leaves no heirs, their entire estate passes to the state via something in the law known as "escheat." Pursuant to this operation of law, the state will hold the real property for a prescribed period of time during which they advertise to find any heirs of the deceased owner or to ensure that there were no joint owners of the property. If after the statutory period none come forward, the state will offer the land for sale.

Inheritance laws can vary between states. The state should also make all reasonable efforts to find out if the deceased person made a will, trust, or other indications of their intent. An estate planning document may specify the deceased wanted to pass property onto a charitable organization. 

In some states, certain types of property won't be included in this. While the state can assume mortgage debt and take appropriate steps to secure the property, property transferred to a living trust would not be subject to this. The mortgage payments would be reassigned or changed based on the trust. Likewise, retirement funds and life insurance proceeds generally aren't affected by intestate succession laws. A real estate plan that has transfer-on-death would also not be affected.

To find out the particulars of SC law, here is a link to the applicable statute: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t27c019.htm

 


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