What does it Mean to Die Intestate?

January 1, 2017

intestateYou may have heard the term "intestate" or "intestacy" before, but wondered what it means. As your estate planning attorney can explain, the term "intestate" simply means dying without a will. So, intestate succession refers to how property will be distributed after your death, if you die without a will or any other estate planning instruments.

What does it mean to die intestate?

If you have no plan then the probate court in your county of residence will be left to determine how to distribute your property based on the laws of intestate succession in your state. Based on those laws, to whom your property will be distributed depends on which of your relatives has survived you. Dying intestate means you have no control who will receive an inheritance and what they will receive.

Nevada’s Laws of Intestate Succession

When it is time to probate your estate, typically the only assets that are involved are those that you own solely in your name. If you own joint property it will not be included but will instead pass automatically to your co-owner. There are also other types of property that are not affected by the laws of intestate succession in Reno:

  • property you transferred into a living trust,
  • life insurance proceeds with named beneficiaries,
  • funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account with named beneficiaries,
  • securities held in a transfer-on-death account,
  • payable-on-death bank accounts,
  • vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration, and
  • real property under which a deed-on-death was recorded.

Who inherits property in Nevada when there is no will

In Nevada, your property goes to your spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and descendants of siblings, in that order. In other words, if only one of these relatives survives you, that relative inherits everything. If, for example, you have two children or two siblings they will divide your property equally.  If you have no living spouse, children, parents, siblings, or descendants of siblings, your property will go to a more remote beneficiary, such as an aunt or uncle, first cousin, second cousin, or even a fourth cousin-thrice removed.

Estate involving community property

Nevada is one of a few Community Property states.  If you are married at the time of your death, your spouse inherits all of your community property.  “Community property” is property acquired while you were married. The exception is that gifts and inheritances given to only one spouse, even if acquired during marriage, are not considered community property.  Everything that had been acquired during marriage that is community property will be transferred to your surviving spouse.
Your separate property, however, will be divided 1/2 to your spouse and 1/2 to your children, if living, or your grandchildren.  If you do not have any living descendants, 1/2 of your separate property will go to your parents, siblings, or nieces and nephews, again depending upon what relatives have survived you.

Legal definition of “children” in Nevada

Children who have been legally adopted, will receive a share along with any biological children. However, foster children or stepchildren who were not legally adopted do not automatically receive a share. Children that have been placed for adoption and who were legally adopted by another family are no longer entitled to a share of your estate.
Children conceived but not born before your death (posthumous children) can still receive a share of your estate. Children born outside of marriage can only receive a share of your estate if it can be proven that you acknowledge them as your children and contributed to their support.
This is EXTREMELY important because intestacy laws were drafted based upon an antiquated model of a "traditional" family.  These laws do not account for second marriages, blended families, or non-traditional relationships that are extremely common in today's day and age.

Special situations that could apply in your case

Siblings with only one parent in common, so-called “half” siblings, inherit as any other sibling would. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally reside in the United States. Finally, Nevada has a “killer” rule which says that anyone who feloniously and intentionally kills you, will not receive a share of your estate.

Avoiding the laws of intestate succession

In order to avoid your estate being distributed according to the laws of intestate succession you must create an estate plan. A comprehensive estate plan will see that your debts are paid and designated how and to whom the remainder of your estate will be distributed. The most basic estate planning instrument is a last will and testament. A will is your written instructions as to how you want your estate to be handled when you die. One drawback of using a will is that the property must go through probate before your assets can be distributed.  There are other ways to avoid probate, and a properly drafted estate plan prepared by an attorney can also help avoid probate and many other issues that commonly become problems when someone dies.
Attend a FREE Webinar today! If you have questions regarding intestate succession in Reno, or any other estate planning needs, please contact Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd., either online or by calling us at (775) 823-9455.

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