If you die without a will in Alabama, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Alabama.
Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Many valuable assets don't go through probate, and therefore aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:
These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will. However, if you don't have a will and none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property, then the property could end up being transferred according to intestate succession.
Who Gets What in Alabama?
Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here's a quick overview:
If you die with:
here's what happens:
|children but no spouse||children inherit everything|
|spouse but no children or parents||spouse inherits everything|
|a spouse and children who belong to you and that spouse||spouse inherits the first $50,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance of your intestate property
children inherit remaining intestate property
|a spouse and children who are not that spouse's children||spouse inherits 1/2 of the intestate property
children inherit 1/2 of the intestate property
|a spouse and parents||spouse inherits the first $100,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance of your intestate property
parents inherit remaining intestate property
|parents but no children or spouse||parents inherit everything|
|siblings but no children, spouse, or parents||siblings inherit everything|
The Spouse's Share in Alabama
In Alabama, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living parents or children. If you don't, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property as follows:
If you die with parents but no children. Your surviving spouse inherits the first $100,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance.
Example: Gerry is married to Joe, and her father is still alive. Gerry owns a house in joint tenancy with Joe, and Joe is also the named beneficiary of Gerry's retirement account. When Gerry dies, Joe automatically inherits the house and any remaining retirement funds; those things are not intestate property. Because Gerry has significant additional property that would have passed under a will, Joe inherits $100,000 worth of that property plus half of everything else. The remaining half goes to Gerry's father.
If you die with children who were born to you and the surviving spouse. Your surviving spouse inherits the first $50,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance.
Example: Bill is married to Karen, and they have two grown children. Bill and Karen own a large bank account in joint tenancy, and Bill took out a life insurance policy naming Karen as the beneficiary. When Bill dies, Karen receives the life insurance policy proceeds and inherits the bank account outright. Bill also owns a good deal of other property that would have passed under a will, so Karen inherits $50,000 worth of that property plus half of everything else. The remaining half goes to the couple's children.
If you die with children who are not the children of your surviving spouse. Your spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property.
Example: Barrett is married to Jed and also has a son from a previous marriage. Barrett owns a house in joint tenancy with Jed, plus $200,000 worth of additional, separate property that would have passed under a will if Barrett had made one. When Barrett dies, Jed inherits the house outright and $100,000 worth of Barrett's property. Barrett's son inherits the remaining $100,000 share of Barrett's property.
If you die without a will in Alabama, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have and whether or not you are married. (See the table above.)
For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of Alabama must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it's not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.
In case you want to read the law, Alabama Code § 43-8-48 covers parent-child relationships.
This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney.
If you die without a will and don't have any family, your property will "escheat" into the state's coffers. However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won't go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles or cousins.
Here are a few other things to know about Alabama intestacy laws.
To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.
You can find Alabama's intestate succession laws here: Alabama Code § § 43-8-40 to 43-8-58.
For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of Nolo.com.