If individuals die intestate, their state’s intestacy laws will make assumptions about how they would want to leave their property. Some of these assumptions may be correct, and others may result in the distribution of property in a manner far different from their wishes. The law will determine who will inherit the property (heirs) and how the property will be divided among the heirs, but it cannot determine who will receive specific items of property. For example, the law may state that the two children, a daughter and a son, will each take one half of the estate, but it may not say that the daughter should receive the decedent’s mother’s wedding ring and the decedent’s son should receive the decedent’s antique desk. Leaving such issues for a judge or other official to determine can cause squabbles among heirs, expense to the estate, and long delays in disposing of the property.
For the most part, states assume that the closer individuals are related to someone, the more likely the decedent would want the property to go to those persons when the decedent dies. In this way, intestate laws generally favor blood relations over other types of relationships. It is also common for state laws to require that heirs survive the decedent by a certain amount of time. This time can be expressed in hours, days, or months, depending on the state. These rules become important when there is an event in which several members of a family are killed at or about the same time. They generally apply whether or not the decedent had a will.