Whenever someone dies without a will, the rules of intestate succession take over. Nearly every jurisdiction uses these rules to try to emulate what would happen if a will did exist. In most cases, the property owned by the decedent flows down to any of his or her surviving heirs. Yet, what occurs if a person dies without a will, and without any known relatives? How does the state deal with property that no longer has a recognizable owner? We’ll take a look at how the law handles these situations in the state of Utah.
The Typical Intestate Distribution
As stated, all jurisdictions have intestacy laws that come in to play when a person dies without a will. It helps to understand how intestacy works when heirs do exist. Utah Codes 75-2-101, 75-2-102 and 75-2-103 work in conjunction to determine who should receive the property.
First, the entire estate goes to a surviving spouse if no children outside of the marriage exist. If the decedent has descendants outside of the marriage, the spouse is only entitled to $50,000 of the estate plus half of anything that remains. Another code section, 75-2-206, states that the surviving spouse’s share can be charged for any death benefits (such as workers’ compensation) which are received. This would reduce the amount that the spouse can claim and preserve funds for the descendants.
When an estate goes directly to surviving descendants, there is a particular order mandated by law. There will be a per capita distribution for each generation of the decedent's lineal descendants. If no descendants exist, the estate may be given to the decedent’s parents. In a situation without parents, the descendants of the decedent’s parents may get the estate. This includes a parent’s children outside of the marriage that produced the decedent.
In situations where neither parents nor descendants exist, the estate will go to any living grandparents of the decedent. The estate may then pass to equally to the paternal and maternal grandparents of the decedent. For further information on this ordering system, it is a wise idea to speak to an estate attorney.
When There Is No One
As you can see from above, the law makes every attempt to locate a living human being who can receive the estate. Nonetheless, there are situations where a person has no relatives at the time of his or her death. At this point, probate hearings are impossible. Still, the government has to decide what to do with the property left over. Utah Code section 75-2-105 deals with this scenario. This code gives the estate to the Utah state school fund. In the end, the estate does not go to waste and will be used to benefit other citizens.
The Importance of Planning
The information above shows why it is always a good idea to create a will or living trust before you pass away. Paying attention to end of life law matters help you, and the legal system, to efficiently administer your estate. Speak to an experienced attorney at Spencer & Collier. A probate lawyer can assist you in creating an estate plan for the future.