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What happens if a person dies intestate?

December 27, 2022
A person throwing money into the trash bin

What does intestate mean?

‘Intestate’ describes a person who passes away without having created a will. Wills are how we manifest our explicit wishes with regard to our assets – essentially, how we want our estate to be inherited after we pass away.

Not having a will creates a significant risk for our loved ones inheriting from us. Without our intentions being made clear, certain organizations are obligated to step in and drive this process according to local legislation – which is almost always guaranteed to not lead to the result we would’ve wanted.

What happens to a person’s estate if they don’t have a will?

If a person dies without having written a valid will, their estate will be divided among their beneficiaries by the state through an official court process. It’s the government’s responsibility to organize and run this process, and all the deceased’s assets are divided according to explicit regulations.

Depending on the country and the regulation, the percentages (i.e., what proportion of your estate is received by each of your heirs) differ, but your legal heirs usually include your spouse or partner, children, parents, grandparents, and siblings. Your successors are also divided into certain categories that differ in priority in terms of inheriting your estate; if some are present, others might not inherit anything.

Why is intestacy a problem?

There are many nuances to the problem of intestacy, all caused by the fact the deceased’s wishes have not been made clear and someone else has to divide the estate on their and their loved ones’ behalf.

These are the main risks and problems to consider if no will is present:

You’re leaving someone else in charge of your life’s work.

Instead of manifesting your explicit desire – be it a portion of your estate going to a charity or a cause you’ve dedicated a great part of your life to, or certain loved ones not inheriting anything at all – someone else gets to make your decisions for you. And the worst part is – you’re not there to correct that.

Your estate might not be inherited by the people or organizations you wanted.

If the government is forced to take over, there are many rules and regulations that must be followed, as you can imagine. While details differ from one regulation to another, some of those rules are generally the same – your successors are prioritized and one might exclude the other.

For example, if you wanted your cousin or aunt to receive a part of your estate, they will receive nothing if you have a surviving partner and children. This, of course, might not be the case in your country, but the point is clear: those decisions are being made without your presence and according to laws you might not even know existed.

If you had a civil partnership that wasn’t known to the state – i.e., you lived and shared your life with a partner but there’s no official record of that – your partner will not inherit from you.

If you volunteered for a charity and wanted a part of your estate to be donated to that cause, that will most certainly not happen if you are intestate. The only way to ensure this happens is to leave a will.

As always, there are taxes involved.
If the government has to step in and manage your estate when you pass away, that doesn’t come free. There are various activities in that process, and significant administrative resources are used before the ordeal is concluded. So not only are your loved ones inheriting what the law says instead of according to your explicit directions, but all those taxes and fees will be taken out of the estate – sometimes reducing it drastically.

There’s a high risk of your successors not being found.
By law, the court will get a full list of your surviving heirs and work it out through the aforementioned prioritization. So far, so good – except a member of your family might be living far away, they might have changed their address and their phone number, and if the court does not find a way to reach them, they will have a significantly reduced chance of receiving their share of your estate.

You might have no surviving heirs.
Even if you don’t have anyone to succeed you – a spouse, children, parents, siblings, etc. – you might still have close friends and charitable organizations you’d like to donate a part of your estate to. That can only happen if you’ve created a will – if none is present, the state will not grant them anything.

Then how can I protect myself and my loved ones?

Apart from drafting a valid will, there are many ways to make sure your loved ones inherit from you. These methods range from simply telling them about your assets and creating online spreadsheets to creating an account for online vaults.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple way or single action to give you and your loved ones security when it comes to your assets. The good news, however, is that we’re here to help! 

DGLegacy® is a secure, web-based asset management application with digital inheritance, designed and built to give you the ultimate peace of mind when it comes to your loved ones inheriting from you. Through our application, you’ll be able to:

  • Securely list all your assets – digital assets, regular assets, passwords, stocks, pension funds, you name it – with as much (or as little) information as you choose
  • Assign your loved ones as beneficiaries to assets of your choice
  • Select whether and when they should be notified
  • Connect social accounts and choose verification methods for ‘alive events.’ 

And we’ll take care of the rest. Our proprietary HeartBeat protocol is designed to detect whether something unforeseen has happened to you. And should such an event occur, we’ll make sure your heirs are notified and provided with any information you’ve deemed appropriate, so there’s one thing less for everyone to worry about in times that are already tremendously difficult.


Victor Minev
Product guy, email nerd. Loves to talk about all product-related things. Domains - email, cybersecurity, compliance, fintech, sportsbetting, retail.