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Intestate refers to when a person dies without a valid will. In these cases, the distribution of the deceased's property is governed by the laws of intestacy, which vary from state to state. The estate of a person who has died intestate goes through probate court. The state’s intestacy laws will determine who will inherit the decedent’s assets. Typically the takers are relatives of the decedent. In order to take under intestacy, the person must survive the decedent.

Over time, several landmark legal cases have helped to refine and clarify the rules of intestacy. For example, Shapira v. Union National Bank addressed the distribution of assets to children in an intestacy case.

See also: Estate Planning; Estates and Trusts

[Last updated in February of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]