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Home > Law & Legal Topics > Law Articles > Estate Planning > Article

When there is No Will: What Each Beneficiary Gets

When a person dies without a will, the state law provides a share of the estate for the surviving spouse and then it provides for the remaining beneficiaries. State law spells out what each non-spouse beneficiary is to receive based on their relationship with the decedent. The Uniform Probate Code or UPC, which state law is often based on, sets out how this works.


Pursuant to the UPC, the part of the estate that did not pass to a surviving spouse or the entire estate if there is no surviving spouse, passes to the following survivors in this order (this is a mouthful, so bear with me here):

  1. To the decedent’s descendants by representation;
  2. If there is no surviving descendant, to the decedent’s parents equally if both survive, or to the surviving parent;
  3. If there is no surviving descendant or parent, to the descendants of the decedent’s parents or either of them by representation;
  4. If there is no surviving descendant, parent, or descendant of a parent, but the decedent is survived by one or more grandparents or descendants of grandparents, half of the estate passes to the decedent’s paternal grandparents equally if both survive, or to the surviving paternal grandparent, or to the descendants of the decedent’s paternal grandparents or either of them if both are deceased, the descendants taking by representation; and the other half passes to the decedent’s maternal relative in the same manner; but if there is no surviving grandparent or descendant of a grandparent on either the paternal or the maternal side, the entire estate passes to the decedent’s relatives on the other side in the same manner of the half; and
  5. If there is no beneficiary listed above, then the intestate estate passes to the state.

It should be noted that sons and daughters-in-law are excluded as intestate successors in the UPC and in virtually all states. State legislatures have decided that the decedent’s property should escheat or pass to the state before allowing a son or daughter-in-law to inherit.

The term “by representation” can be confusing. Let’s take a closer look at what by representation means.

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