If There’s No Will

Who Gets What?

When there is a will, it’s easy to know who the heirs are. They’re listed in the will.

When there’s no will, there are formulas to figure out who gets what. Let’s start with the simplest cases.

Notes:

  • This article is for education purposes and is not intended to be legal advice.
  • The legal term for no will is “intestate.”
    • We’ll do our best to explain things without using those kinds of words.
  • These formulas are the ones used in Florida. Most states follow similar formulas.

Property Held Jointly

Property owned jointly, or as husband and wife, is also easy. The survivor on the deed or the account gets the property.

Property inherited by joint ownership does not count against other inheritances. For example, suppose somebody dies with two children, both equal heirs, and one of them had joint ownership, with the deceased, of a business. That heir would get the business owned jointly. The rest of the property would be split with the other heir, 50/50.

When Spouse Is Still Living

There are three different situations when a married person dies:

  • Deceased had no children
    • Spouse gets everything
  • Deceased had all children with the spouse
    • Spouse gets everything
  • Deceased had children with another besides the spouse
    • Spouse gets half
    • Descendants with others get half, based on the formulas below

When There’s No Living Spouse

With most of the cases we handle, the deceased was either single or widowed at the time of death. That’s when things can get more complicated.

Once you understand the formulas, it’s not as complicated as it may seem. Follow the family tree.

Basic Formulas

In the following formulas, if all the property is distributed at one step, other steps are not needed.

  1. Joint ownership:
    • Described above
  2. When spouse is still living:
    • Described above
    • All steps below are for single and widowed deceased
  3. When there are children, all still living:
  4. When some children are still living, but some have died:
    • If deceased children have no living descendants:
    • If deceased children have living descendants:
      • Children’s shares are divided equally as though all children with living descendants were living
      • Grandchildren divide their parents’ shares
      • Similar rules apply to great grandchildren, etc.
      • See example
  5. If there are no living children, but there are living grandchildren or great grandchildren, etc.:
    • Shares are divided as though all children with living descendants were living
    • Grandchildren divide their parents’ shares
    • Similar rules apply to great grandchildren, etc.
    • See example
  6. If there are no living descendants:
    • Parents of deceased inherit everything equally
    • See example
  7. If there are no living descendants, and one or more parents are deceased:
    • For deceased parent(s), follow these formulas for that share, as if parent(s) had just died
    • See example
  8. If there are no living descendants of parents, and parents are deceased:
    • Grandparents of deceased inherit everything equally
    • This situation is very rare
  9. If there are no living descendants of parents, and one or more grandparents are deceased:
    • For deceased grandparent(s), follow these formulas for that share, as if grandparent(s) had just died
    • This is just like example 7, starting one generation prior
    • This situation is very rare

Adopted Children

Adopted children are treated the same as if they were the natural children of their adopted parents. Unless listed in a will, they have no rights to inherit from their birth parents.

Half Siblings

Half siblings inherit from their parents, natural or adopted, but not their step parents. When a parent of two half siblings dies, they are treated equally. When a parent of one child, but not the other, dies, the child of the deceased parent is part of the formulas but the step child is not.

The most complicated thing about half siblings is when one of them has died with no descendants. Then, the rights to inherit flow up the family tree based upon the natural or adopted parents, not the step parents.

In the examples given, if, instead of being the son of both Jim and Jane, Charles had been the son of only one of them, his half siblings in this family would only divide half of his share between them, and the other half would go to the family tree of his other parent.

Inlaws

When there is no will, the only person who inherits because of marriage is a spouse. Unless listed in a will, inlaws have no inheritance rights.