What happens when a person dies without a will?

| Jul 15, 2021 | Estate Planning |

We never know when we’ll be gone, so we need to look ahead and create our wills for when that moment arrives. However, some people put off creating a will for so long that they die without one. In this case, the state will make the asset’s distribution.

Intestate succession

People who die without a will are said to die “intestate.” That means that the state will distribute the property to the deceased’s family members. The laws in New Jersey specify that the person’s estate will be distributed in the following order of priority:

  1. To the person’s spouse or partner
  2. To the person’s descendants (birthchild or adopted individuals)
  3. To the person’s parents or siblings
  4. To the person’s grandparents or their descendants
  5. To the person’s stepchildren or descendants by representation

If there are absolutely no heirs, then the state will take the property. This is not common because, before the state takes the property, it will try to give the property to anyone related to the deceased person.


If the deceased person had a living spouse at the time of their death, then their spouse might get all the inheritance. However, this can change if the person’s parents are also still alive or if the spouse had children of their own that were not the deceased’s descendants. The law also changes if the person had descendants of their own that were not the living spouse’s descendants.

The importance of a will

Just because a person dies without a will does not mean that their family won’t get their inheritance. However, a person can specify the percentages of the distribution among their family members in a will. Ultimately, making a will is faster and more effective. No matter how far our deaths seem, we should always take some time to plan ahead and create a will.