If you die without a will in Arizona, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Arizona.
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.
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 descendants||spouse inherits everything|
|a spouse and descendants from you and that spouse||spouse inherits everything|
|a spouse and descendants from you and someone other than that spouse||spouse inherits 1/2 of your separate property but no interest in the 1/2 of the community property that belonged to you
children inherit 1/2 of separate property and the 1/2 of the community property that belonged to you
|parents but no spouse or descendants||parents inherit everything|
|siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents||siblings inherit everything|
In Arizona, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends in part on how the two of you owned your property -- as separate property or community property. Generally, community property is property acquired while you were married, and separate property is property you acquired before marriage. There are a couple of big exceptions: Gifts and inheritances given to one spouse are separate property, even if acquired during marriage.
If you want to learn more about how community property works, read Separate and Community Property During Marriage: Who Owns What?
In Arizona, your surviving spouse will automatically inherit your half of the community property if you have no descendants or if you have descendants -- children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren – resulting only from your relationship with your surviving spouse. If you have descendants from another relationship, your spouse will automatically inherit your half of the community property only if you hold that property as "community property with the right of survivorship." Otherwise, your half of the community property will be distributed among your descendants.
If you have separate property (many spouses mix everything together and don't have any separate property) your spouse will inherit all or a portion of it. As with your community property, the size of your spouse's share of your separate property depends on whether or not you have living descendants -- children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren -- from a previous relationship. If you do, those descendants and your spouse will share your separate property.
If you die without a will in Arizona, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have, whether you are married, and whether your children are also your spouse's children. (See the table above.)
For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of Arizona 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.
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 Arizona intestacy laws.
To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.
You can find Arizona's intestate succession laws here: Arizona Revised Statutes § § 14-2101 to 14-2114.
For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of Nolo.com.