What happens to a person’s property when they die?
When a person dies, their property is passed on to others - generally, their family and friends. Who the property goes to and how this is determined depends on a few things. All of a person’s property is known as their estate and the process of distributing the property is known as estate administration. The first thing to look at for the purpose of estate administration is what property is part of the probate estate, as opposed to property that is nonprobate property. This is necessary because estate administration only applies to the probate estate. Nonprobate property is not part of the estate administration because there are separate, and legally binding, arrangements for what happens to that property. For example, there may be a contract in place that dictates what happens to certain property, or jointly owned property may pass to someone else automatically by law.
Once this distinction is made, you have to determine how the probate estate is actually going to be distributed. This depends on whether or not there was a valid legal will left by the deceased. If so, the will controls how the probate estate property is distributed. If there is no valid will, or if there is property that is not covered by the will, you have to look at certain laws of the state where the deceased lived. These laws, known as intestacy statutes, dictate how property should be distributed when there is no applicable will.