Monday, July 27, 2009

What happens to my estate if I die without a will?

Large or small everyone who dies leaves an "estate." Even if the property has no value, anything owned by the decedent during life is considered part of the estate. A person who dies without a will or trust disposing of his or her estate is said to have died "intestate." Most states, Arizona included, have very specific statutory provisions which determine the disposition of the deceased's estate.

Arizona's statutes implement the Uniform Probate Code, first adopted beginning in 1969. Only sixteen states have adopted the entire Uniform Probate Code but many other states have adopted portions of the code. Arizona's statutes essentially write a simple will for everyone who dies intestate. Although the provisions of the Code are uniform, it does not mean they are simple. Some of the provisions, especially those dealing with intestate estates (without a will) are quite complicated.

Under Arizona law, if a person dies intestate his or her property goes to the "heirs" as defined by the statutes. The estate goes first, to a surviving spouse, unless there are children (called issue in the statutes) who are not children of both spouses. In the case of children who are not children of both spouses the division becomes even more complicated and will be the subject of another post. In event there is no spouse, the property goes to a person's children, if there are no children, to the parents, if there are no living parents then to siblings, the statutory scheme finally ends with any cousins. See Arizona Revised Statutes Section 14-2103. Absent the existence of any of the relatives provided for in the statute, then the property goes to the State of Arizona. See Arizona Revised Statutes Section 14-2105.

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