Written by attorney Jonathan Craig Reed

What Happens if You Die Without a Will? Does the State of Nevada Get your Property?

A lot of people mistakenly think that if they die without a will the State of Nevada will get their property.

In reality the State of Nevada only gets a dead person's property if no spouse or person related by blood comes forward to claim the property or if no one named in a will as a beneficiary seeks to probate the will (file the will with the court and seek distribution in accordance with the will). If a person dies in Las Vegas the Clark County Coroner will make some attempt to contact relatives. For example, if there are no relatives on the scene the Coroner's office will search the residence for valuables, take possession of them for safe-keeping and go through the decedent's papers to try and find someone to contact.

If no one comes forward to claim the body and the search of the residence does not reveal contacts, then the Coroner's Office will have the Clark County Public Administrator do a probate and if during this process no one comes forward, the property will be turned over to the State of Nevada. This process of turning the property over to the State is called "escheat."

Once the property is turned over to the State of Nevada relatives have 6 years in which to file a claim for return of the property in the Carson City District Court.

However, far more typically, if a person dies without a will the dead person's property will be distributed in a probate proceeding under "the law of intestate (no will) succession" which basically specify how the property will be distributed between the spouse, if there is one, and blood relatives. See my website, for details.

In addition, it often happens that when a person dies there is nothing to go before a probate court. For example, if two people own a house as joint tenants, if one dies, the other automatically becomes entitled to the whole house. (The survivor files the death certificate along with an "Affidavit of Death of Joint Tenant.") Likewise, a bank account or stock brokerage account can be held in joint tenancy or be made payable on death to a named beneficiary.

Wills are important if you want your property to go to non-relatives, if you want your property to go to particular relatives, or if you want to attach conditions to a gift such as that a minor child does not get a big inheritance at age 18, but has to wait until later.

However, better than wills in most cases are trusts. Trust avoid the expense of probate. Probate fees are negotiable and the executor in a will is under no obligation to use the attorney who wrote the will for the probate. I estimate that the cost of probate is between 2.5% and 6% of what is probated. This considerable expense can be saving by putting your property in a trust before you die. Trusts can also handle a gift to a minor remaining under supervision after the minor turns 18. In addition, trusts can provide for your adult children or other trusted people to take over your finances if you become unable to handle that.

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