Intestate Succession in Arkansas

What happens if you die without a will? Learn about intestacy in Arkansas.

Updated by , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

If you die without a will in Arkansas, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Arkansas.

Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession

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:

  • property you've transferred to a living trust
  • life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary
  • funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account with a named beneficiary
  • securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • real estate for which you have a transfer on death deed
  • vehicles for which you have a transfer on death registration
  • payable-on-death bank accounts, or
  • property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.

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.

To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid Probate section of or read about Avoiding Probate in Arkansas.

Who Gets What in Arkansas?

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 or other descendants but no spouse children and descendants inherit all intestate property
spouse of at least three years, no children spouse inherits everything
spouse and children spouse gets 1/3 of real property in the form of a life estate and 1/3 of the personal property

children inherit all of the real property less the life estate and 2/3 of the personal property.
spouse of less than three years, no children spouse inherits 50% of intestate property

parents, siblings, or other relatives inherit remaining 50% of intestate property
parents but no children or spouse parents inherit everything
siblings but no children, spouse, or parents siblings inherit everything

(Ark. Code §§ 28-9-214; 28-11-301; 28-11-305 (2023).)

The Spouse's Share in Arkansas

In Arkansas, whether or not you have a will when you die, your spouse will inherit property from you under a doctrine called "dower and curtesy." Briefly, this is how it works:

If you have children or other descendants. Your spouse has the right to use, for life, 1/3 of your real estate. After you die, your children or other descendants inherit the property outright. In addition, your spouse inherits 1/3 of your personal property outright. (Ark. Code §§ 28-11-301; 28-11-305 (2023).)

If you don't have children or other descendants. In most cases, your spouse freely inherits 1/2 of your real estate and 1/2 of your personal property. (Ark. Code § 28-11-307 (2023).)

In addition to the protections of dower and curtesy, if you are married and you die without a will, your spouse may receive some of your intestate property. (Remember, that's only the property that would have passed under a will if you had made one, and not in any other way—for example by dower and curtesy or any of the other methods mentioned at the beginning of this article.) How much your spouse inherits depends on whether or not you have living children or other descendants, and on how long you were married.

If you have children or other descendants. If you have children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, they will inherit all of your intestate property. (Ark. Code §§ 28-9-214 (2023).)

If you were married at least three years. If you were married for at least three years and you have no descendants, your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. (Ark. Code §§ 28-9-214 (2023).)

If you were married less than three years. If you were married for less than three years and you have no descendants, your spouse inherits 50% of your intestate property. The rest goes to other surviving relatives in the order established by Arkansas law. (Ark. Code §§ 28-9-214 (2023).)

These rules can quickly become complicated. Following is a simple example of how they might work.

Example: Paul and Joan were married for seven years, and Paul has two children from a previous marriage. Paul and Joan own a house in joint tenancy. Paul also owns a substantial amount of personal property, including several boats and some very valuable antiques. When Paul dies without a will, the house passes automatically to Joan. In addition, she inherits 1/3 of Paul's personal property under the rules of dower and curtesy. The remaining 2/3 of Paul's personal property passes to his kids.

If you have any concerns about this area of the law, see an experienced attorney for help.

Children's Shares in Arkansas

If you die without a will in Arkansas, 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 Arkansas 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.

  • Adopted children. Children you legally adopted will receive an intestate share, just as your biological children do. (Ark. Code § 28-9-202 (2023).)
  • Foster children and stepchildren. Foster children and stepchildren you never legally adopted will not automatically receive a share.
  • Children placed for adoption. Children you placed for adoption and who were legally adopted by another family will not receive a share. However, if your biological children were adopted by your spouse, that won't affect their intestate inheritance. (Ark. Code § 9-9-215 (2023).)
  • Posthumous children. Children conceived by you but not born before your death will receive a share. (Ark. Code § 28-9-210 (2023).)
  • Children born outside of marriage. If you were not married to your child's mother when she gave birth, the child may receive a share of your estate if (1) you later marry the child's mother, (2) a court establishes your paternity, (3) you acknowledge in writing that you are the child's father, (4) your name appears with your written consent on the child's birth certificate, or (5) you are obligated to support the child under a written voluntary promise or by court order. If you are the child's mother, your child will receive a share. (Ark. Code § 28-9-209 (2023).)
  • Children born during your marriage. Any child born or conceived during your marriage is assumed to be your child and will receive a share of your estate. (Ark. Code § 28-9-209 (2023).)
  • Children born during a marriage that is later found to be void. If you had a child during an attempted marriage that is later found to be void, that child is considered your legitimate child and will receive a share of your estate. (Ark. Code § 28-9-209 (2023).)
  • Children born following artificial insemination. Any child conceived after artificial insemination of a married woman with the consent of her husband is considered a legitimate child and will receive a share of the parents' estate. Consent of the husband is presumed unless proved otherwise. (Ark. Code § 28-9-221 (2023).)
  • Grandchildren. A grandchild will receive a share only if that grandchild's" parent (your son or daughter) is not alive to receive his or her share. (Ark. Code § 28-9-214 (2023).)

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.

Will the State Get Your Property?

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, siblings, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, nieces or nephews, cousins of any degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a spouse who dies before you do. (Ark. Code §§ 28-9-214 and 28-9-215 (2023).)

Other Arkansas Intestate Succession Rules

Here are a few other things to know about Arkansas intestacy laws.

  • Survivorship period. To inherit under Arkansas's intestate succession statutes, a person must outlive you by five days. (This is a survivorship period requirement.) So, if you and your brother are in a car accident and he dies a few hours after you do, his estate would not receive any of your property. (Ark. Code § 28-10-202 (2023).)
  • Half-relatives. "Half" relatives inherit as if they were "whole." That is, your sister with whom you share a father, but not a mother, has the same right to your property as she would if you had both parents in common. (Ark. Code § 28-9-213 (2023).)
  • Posthumous relatives. Relatives conceived before—but born after—you die inherit as if they had been born while you were alive. This rule only applies if the relative is your descendant (child, grandchild, and so on), and not for other relatives (aunts, cousins, etc.). (Ark. Code § 28-9-210 (2023).)
  • Immigration status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States. (Ark. Code § 28-9-211 (2023).)

Learn More About Intestacy in Arkansas

Here are a few more resources to explore:

Ready to create your will?

Get Professional Help
Talk to an Estate Planning attorney.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you