Sometimes a person puts off executing an estate plan until it is too late. If a person in Southern Arizona dies without a will or trust, their assets will be distributed to their heirs per the laws of “intestate succession.” This applies to both community property and separate property.

Much of the time, if a person is married at the time of their death and only has children that were born to the marriage, the person’s spouse will inherit the intestate estate. This is the only way that the person’s children will not inherit any part of the intestate estate.

If a person was married at the time of their death, but has a child from a prior relationship, the person’s spouse will inherit 50% of the intestate estate’s separate property, and the remaining 50% of the decedent’s separate property and the decedent’s share of community property will be inherited by the child from a previous relationship. If a person is unmarried at the time of their death but has surviving children, the decedent’s entire estate will go to those children. The only way grandchildren will inherit per intestate succession is if their parent predeceased the decedent.

If a person is unmarried at the time of their death and does not have any children, the laws of intestate succession become more complex. If the decedent leaves behind surviving parents, their entire estate will go to their parents. If the decedent’s parents are no longer alive, but the decedent has surviving siblings, their estate will be evenly split between their siblings. If the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings, their entire estate will go to their surviving grandparents. If the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings or grandparents their estate will be split between their surviving aunts and uncles. Absent all these situations, the person’s estate will go to the state.

As this shows, the laws of intestate succession can be complex. Moreover, they may not reflect who you would truly want to inherit your estate. For this reason, it is important to execute an estate plan early on, to avoid having your estate assets distributed by intestate succession upon your death.