Intestacy law refers to the law that governs what happens to a person's property if he or she dies without a will. It is distinct from probate law, which governs how wills are enforced. Intestacy law allows a court to determine the proper distribution of assets in a fair and streamlined manner.
When a person dies, he usually leaves assets behind. Wise estate planning dictates that a person should write a will that distributes his possessions. When a valid will is created, the requests of the deceased will be enforced by the court and the executor of the estate.
If an individual dies without a will, someone must determine what is done with his assets. Since no executor has been named, the responsibility falls to the court. Thus, laws must determine what the court is to do.
Intestacy laws are designed to ensure the fairest distribution of monies and to try to ensure the funds go to the deceased's next of kin. Intestacy laws differ by country and by state, but it is common for intestacy laws to look at the closeness of a familial connection when distributing the assets.
For example, if a person dies without a will — called dying intestate — it is common for the court to distribute some of his assets to his spouse. Children are also normally high on the list and are given a portion of the deceased's assets under intestacy law.
If a person doesn't have a spouse or children, intestacy rules determine who is the closest living relative, choosing from siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents and so on. Money and assets are often split among different relatives according to legally defined percentages to ensure fairness.
If next of kin cannot be found, the intestacy laws dictate that the money reverts to the government. This is a last resort and is not done until every effort is made to find some living relative. Relatives may have to prove their connection to the deceased through birth certificates or other family records.
The body of intestacy law is designed to avoid confusion and ensure a fair and just distribution of possessions. Without intestacy law, the results would differ on a case by case basis, resulting in potential acrimony or unfair deviations on the basis of the judge deciding the case. It protects the rights of the survivors of someone who has passed away without taking the proper estate planning steps.