Intestate succession is a legal process that comes into play when someone passes away without leaving behind a valid will or other legally binding document dictating how their assets and property should be distributed. Instead, the distribution of assets is determined by the laws of intestacy in the state where the person passed away.
The laws of intestacy establish a specific order of priority for the distribution of assets. Typically, a surviving spouse and children are given priority, followed by other close relatives, such as parents and siblings. If there are no surviving relatives, the assets may escheat to the state.
The rules of intestate succession can vary widely from state to state and may be subject to change over time based on legislative and judicial decisions. For instance, in the case of Estate of Roccamonte v. United States, the court held that even a common-law spouse could be entitled to a share of the deceased partner's assets, even if they were not legally married.
[Last updated in February of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]