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What happens if a Utah resident dies without a will?

On Behalf of | Oct 23, 2023 | Wills and Estates

Estate planning requires that someone thinks about what will happen when they die, often at great length. Many people find the process unpleasant and delay drawing up necessary paperwork accordingly.

For some people, getting married or having children will motivate them to put together an estate plan. Others may continue to delay and may never draft a legal will. Understandably, the family members and closest loved ones of someone who dies without a will often worry about what will happen next.

Intestate succession laws guide the process

Someone who dies without a valid testamentary document, like a will or trust, dies intestate. That simply means that they did not provide instructions regarding the descent of their property. That oversight means that state law will take control of the probate process.

Under the current intestate succession laws in Utah, family members are the main beneficiaries. The law heavily favors immediate family members, especially spouses. Spouses and children have the strongest right of inheritance under current Utah statutes. Exactly how they will split someone’s resources depends on whether the surviving spouse is also a legal or biological parent to the children who will inherit from the estate. They will inherit everything if the children are also theirs.

If someone dies without a spouse and without any surviving children, then other family members can potentially inherit some of their property. Parents and siblings have the strongest rights after spouses and children. Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and even cousins can inherit from those without closer family. In the relatively unusual situation in which the state cannot identify any surviving family members, the property of someone who dies intestate will eventually transfer to the state of Utah.

Intestate succession laws are a last line of defense for those with close relationships to an individual who just died. However, they are very generic and ultimately do not serve everyone’s needs. From those who have close friends that they want to support to those who did not marry their romantic partner, there are many people who find that intestate succession laws do not achieve their wishes for their legacy.

Taking the time to put together a will or a trust can be a smart decision for someone who wants to leave resources for specific people when they die, as the state will decide where one’s assets will go in the event that an individual dies without any valid paperwork in place.