A person who dies without a valid will has died "intestate," making them subject to intestacy laws. These laws typically vary by state. Probate without a will involves settling assets and debts according to these state guidelines. Once the intestate person's debts are settled, the rest of the estate is divided among the living relatives. If there aren’t any living relatives, the remainder usually goes to the state.
The probate court will assign an executor or administrator to the deceased person's case. The person is usually a close relative, such as a surviving spouse. The court will make an effort to ensure their chosen executor has the time, skills, and temperament to fulfill the obligations of probate without a will.
Probate without a will follows the laws of the state where the deceased lived. The executor or administrator is typically responsible for the following tasks:
Identify, protect, and appraise the person's property and assets
Pay any debts, taxes, or liens owed by the deceased person
Distribute the remaining assets, as determined by state law
Intestacy laws decide how assets are distributed. But state policy might not reflect what the decedent would have wanted. For example, the children might receive an inheritance, instead of the spouse. And in most states, close friends or the decedent’s preferred charities won’t get any inheritance if probate happens without a valid will.