Intestate Estates

What Happens When I Die in Alabama Without A Will?

When a person dies in Alabama without having a will, this is referred to as dying intestate. Essentially, the decedent’s property is distributed according to a set of statutory default rules, which were created by the state legislature. The rules are designed to make a best guess at what the decedent would have intended to do with the property, but these rules often miss the mark due to the highly diverse group of people that end up dying without having first made a will. This is why it is always a good idea to make a will and avoid intestacy.

The intestacy statutes vary from state to state, but for the most part they follow a common pattern – if the decedent had no children (called “issue”) or parents, then the entire estate will go to the decedent’s spouse. The spouse must have formally married the decedent, although common law marriages suffice in some states. However, divorce ends the spousal relationship for purposes of intestacy. An ex-spouse cannot recover any part of an intestate estate. If the decedent did have children or parents, then the spouse’s share decreases by a fixed amount that is distributed to the children or parents. The intestacy system can get quite complicated when applied to families with multiple generations of children and grandchildren, and different jurisdictions use different systems. In Alabama, the intestacy hierarchy is as follows:

Spouse -> Issue -> Parents -> Issue of Parents -> Grandparents ->Issue of Grandparents -> In-laws if near simultaneous death -> State

As the end of the flowchart diagram shows, if a person dies intestate with no spouse or other relatives, then the person’s property goes to the State of Alabama.  This process is known as “escheat,” and is one of the biggest reasons to avoid intestacy by creating a will.  After paying taxes your entire life, surely you don’t want all your property to go to the State when you die! Even people with no spouse or family at all would probably rather distribute their assets to a beloved alumnus or charity.  To emphasize, these are the default rules for what happens if you die without a will – there is no reason to let them govern what happens to your property – make a will!

If a loved one has died without making a will, it is a good idea to retain the services of an experienced Dothan attorney with expertise in the area of probate law.  We can guide you through the process of administering the intestate estate, or help you get the property to which you are entitled.

The probate attorneys of Parkman White, LLP offer a host of probate services, including representing potential beneficiaries in contested will matters. We have been helping clients for years in Dothan, Ozark, Enterprise, and Troy. If you need an intestate estate administered, or believe that you may be the rightful heir to the property of an intestate estate, email or call us today at 334-792-1900 for a consultation, and let us put our experience to work for you.