How Does Intestate Succession Work?


By: HeirSearch.

What happens when someone dies without a will?

In an ideal scenario, one would take time to get their ducks in a row by drafting a will to ensure their intended beneficiaries are cared for when they pass away. However, this is often not the case: a 2020 study found that 68% of Americans do not have a will.

When someone passes away without a will—also called intestate—, their assets are transferred to their estate’s heirs under the intestacy laws of the state in which they live. While these laws vary by state, they generally follow similar patterns. Often, a forensic genealogist is called upon to assist in identifying the legal heirs to an estate.

Intestate succession thus refers to the process of administering an estate when a person passes away without a valid will or trust. When one passes away intestate while holding an estate that contains significant assets, a forensic genealogist’s intervention is needed to determine the next steps or due processes in keeping with State laws.

How is an estate distributed when someone dies intestate?

A state’s laws determine the line of succession when someone dies intestate. Typically, the surviving spouse and any surviving children of the decedent have the first claim to the estate. In cases where there is no spouse or surviving children, living grandchildren may inherit their parent’s share of assets. After that, the estate passes on to other heirs in the predetermined line of succession. The decedent’s parents and siblings are typically next in line, followed by grandparents, cousins, and other relatives.

How does a forensic genealogist help?

A forensic genealogist helps trace the missing heirs to an estate. They may also provide testimony regarding the validity of a claim raised by the supposed heir. When a person dies intestate, a forensic genealogist helps produce an accurate family tree of the deceased, tracing back multiple generations to identify all living and deceased relatives. With this information, an estate’s administrator can contact living heirs to provide notice and map out a suitable plan for distributing the estate in line with the state’s intestacy laws.

Do you need help in determining rightful heirship?

HeirSearch’s professional researchers help estate administrators through qualified assistance identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate.

HeirSearch™ works with executors, administrators, trustees, fiduciaries, bank and trust officers, and their counsel to establish kinship for legal purposes. Since 1967, we’ve successfully completed tens of thousands of worldwide searches.

If you are the administrator of an estate and need to establish heirship in an intestacy, HeirSearch can help. We offer no-cost, no-obligation consultations, court-ready documents, and reasonable, non-percentage-based search fees.

Feel free to reach out with any questions — we look forward to connecting!

Phone: +1 (800)-663-2255

Or Contact Us Today

As the industry’s leading forensic genealogy experts and heir finders, We Find Missing Heirs a Better Way®. We can help with even the most complex probate cases, spanning multiple genealogical connections and geographies.


This report is for informational purposes only and is intended only as a reference. HeirSearch does not endorse or recommend any of the products or services offered in the third-party articles or content contained within. We cannot guarantee the accuracy or effectiveness of the same and will not assume any liability related to the same. Additionally, nothing contained herein may be construed as legal advice. All offers are void where prohibited by law. Copyright © International Genealogical Search Inc. All rights reserved.