Dying without a will is called intestacy. It means that you have made no provisions for the disposition of your money or property, and even if you do have family with the right to inherit, the disposition of your assets will now be decided by the probate court. In many cases, the probate court will naturally divide your assets among your spouse and/or children and little complication will result. However, with larger estates, this process can often become lengthy, costly, and result in family disputes.
When your estate is left in the hands of the probate court, your wishes may not be followed as you would have liked. Having made no provisions through estate planning, you have no voice before the court. Your money will not be left to specified heirs or select charities, and your property may not be wind up in the hands of the persons you specifically envisioned passing it to. The probate court will dispose of your assets to those who have the right to inherit, based on the letter of the law. In many jurisdictions, if you die without a will, your estate is subject to succession laws. Your spouse and children are the first considered as heirs by the probate court. If you have no spouse or children, succession then falls to your extended family. If, after a number of years, no one comes forward to claim your estate, it typically falls into escheatment, meaning the state or an unclaimed property company takes ownership of the assets.