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What does it mean to 'die intestate'?

Occasionally, a person may hear that someone died intestate. What does this mean? "Dying intestate" is legal terminology describing a situation in which a person died without having a will in place. 

What are the implications of dying intestate? If there is no will for a deceased individual and the deceased didn't have any other estate planning devices in place, the distribution of the deceased's property will be dictated by state laws called intestacy laws. These laws generally set up an order of inheritance among a person's potential heirs. 

Thus, what specifically will happen to a person's estate if they die sans a will depends on what state's intestate laws apply to their property (this is impacted by things like where they resided and where real estate they owned is located) and what potential heirs they had upon death.

Given how hard people work over the course of their lives to build up their estate, most would rather directly control what happens with their estate when they die rather than leaving such distribution up to state statutes. Simply leaving estate distribution up to intestacy laws could result in a distribution very different from what a person would want. For example, it could leave someone they deeply care about out of their inheritance. Thus, dying intestate is generally not a terribly desirable thing.

Forming a will is one of the big ways an elderly individual can take control of where their assets will go when they die. Elder law attorneys can assist Washington seniors with will formation and other aspects of estate planning.

Source: FindLaw, "What Happens If You Die Without a Will?," Accessed Jan. 27, 2015

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