What If I Die Without a Will?

What is Intestate Succession?

When a person dies without a will in Arizona, it is called dying intestate. Arizona has intestate succession laws that dictate who administers your estate and how it is distributed if you die without a will. Because you did not create a will, the state decides how the property is distributed.

lawyer discussing about intestate succession

Who Serves as Personal Representative If You Die Without a Will In Phoenix?

In Arizona, the person who administers your estate is called the personal representative. Arizona’s intestate succession laws include an order of priority of who is entitled to serve in this role if there is no will:

  1. The Decedent’s surviving spouse;
  2. The Decedent’s other heirs;
  3. The Arizona Department of Veteran’s Services (if the Decedent was a veteran of the armed forces);
  4. 45 days after the death of the Decedent, any creditor (except for a funeral director who has the Decedent’s remains); and
  5. The public fiduciary of the Decedent’s county.

Who Gets Your Property if You Die Without a Will in Phoenix?

Before any property is distributed to the relatives of the decedent, the personal representative will pay all valid claims against the estate (e.g., medical bills, debts, and other creditor claims).

After the creditor claims are paid, the remaining property is distributed to your heirs per Arizona’s intestacy laws. How your property is distributed depends on whether you have a spouse, children, and other living relatives. The rules are strict, and no exceptions are made based on special circumstances. Below are some common scenarios.

  • Married with no children. Your surviving spouse receives your entire estate. 
  • Married and only have children with your current spouse. Your surviving spouse receives your entire estate.
  • Married and have children from a prior relationship. Your estate is divided between your spouse and children from outside the marriage. Because Arizona is a community property state, what each party receives depends on if the property is classified as separate or community. In general, community property is any property acquired while married and separate property includes any property acquired before marriage. There are a few exceptions to this rule—gifts and inheritances are separate property regardless of when they were acquired.

Your surviving spouse inherits half of your separate property, and your children inherit half of your separate property in equal shares. Your surviving spouse remains the owner of their half interest in the community property. Your children inherit your half interest in the community property.

  • Single with children. Your children inherit your entire estate “per stripes” in equal shares. Per stripes means that your child’s own children would inherit their parent’s share if their parent were no longer living.
  • Single with no children. Your parents inherit your estate. If you have no living parents, your siblings inherit your estate. If you have no living parents or siblings, the estate flows down to more remote relatives. If there are no relatives, the state of Arizona collects the property.

Step-children do not inherit under Arizona’s intestacy laws unless they are legally adopted. Half-relatives inherit as if they were whole blood. For example, a half-sister who you share a mother with but have a different father is treated the same as a sibling that shares both of your parents.

What Assets Avoid Intestacy Proceedings in Phoenix?

Arizona’s intestacy laws only apply to property that passes through probate. Many assets do not go through probate and therefore are not governed by intestate succession laws. Instead, they pass to the surviving co-owner or designated beneficiary. Examples of non-probate property include:

  • Property held in a trust,
  • Life insurance proceeds,
  • Retirement accounts,
  • Transfer-on-death accounts,
  • Payable-on-death accounts, and
  • Property owned in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.

The above property could end up in intestacy proceeds in Phoenix if none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property.

What is Partial Intestacy in Arizona?

An individual dies partially intestate in Phoenix when they left a will, but the will did not address all of the estate property. The assets not included in the will are distributed according to Arizona’s intestate laws.

To avoid this outcome, you should include a residuary clause in your will that states that anything not specifically designated goes to a named beneficiary.

Your Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney

Nicole Pavlik is an experienced Phoenix estate planning attorney who help you create a comprehensive estate plan. If you have questions about estate planning, call Nicole Pavlik Law Firm today at (602) 635-6176 for a free consultation.

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