When a decedent does not leave a legally binding will, this state is called dying intestate. The estate of a decedent (an estate is the sum of the decedent’s property), who dies intestate is distributed according to the intestacy laws where the decedent was domiciled and/or where the decedent owned real property. Federal law leaves the creation of intestacy laws largely up to the states. Consequently, intestacy laws and judicial decisions vary from state to state. Intestacy statutes basically “create” a will for the decedent if the individual died intestate.
The most common way for individuals to influence how their property gets distributed when they die is to create a will. Wills are legal documents that help heirs and courts; local, state and federal governments; and the decedent’s creditors know how to distribute that person’s property upon death. There is more information about wills in The Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law under the topic “Wills.”