Five Tips on What to Do If Your Loved One Has Died Without a Will

Posted on: 20 September 2016

If someone close to you has died without leaving a will, their estate will be distributed based on the laws of intestacy. These laws dictate which portion of the estate goes to the deceased's spouse and children and which relatives are in line if there are no spouse or children. Navigating a large estate without a will can be complicated. Here are some tips to help you:

1. Hire a probate lawyer with knowledge of local laws.

The intestacy laws vary slightly from state to state, and to ensure that the estate is handled correctly and that the distribution of the deceased's estate is not contested, you may want to work with a probate lawyer who is an expert on the laws in your area. If the deceased is Indigenous, hire a specialist in Indigenous laws, as local intestacy laws can vary in cases with Indigenous people to better reflect that culture.

2. Apply to be the administrator of the deceased's estate.

If you decide that you don't need a probate lawyer, you may want to handle some aspects of the issue yourself. Namely, you may want to apply to become an administrator of the estate. In this role, you gather the assets and distribute them. Your letter of administration, in a case like this, works as a stand-in for the typical grant of probate.

3. Try to come to an agreement with other heirs.

If you are the deceased's wife or domestic partner and the deceased had another spouse, you and that individual may stand to split some of the estate. Arguing over who has claim to which part of the estate can draw out the process, potentially delaying your inheritance. Rather than arguing, try to work together to come to an agreement to split the assets equally or create a written agreement to split the assets in a way that works for both of you.

4. Collect blood for paternity claims.

As you distribute the assets to everyone who is eligible to receive them based on intestacy rules, you may want to safeguard yourself against paternity claims. To that end, collect some blood from the deceased and have the DNA analysed. That way, if someone pops up in a year or so and claims they have the right to that estate, you can fact check their claim with a DNA test. For example, the people handling the estate of Prince are taking this safety precaution.

You may also want to collect a bit of blood from deceased women to help with maternity claims, if you think the deceased may have had a children in secret and put it up for adoption.

5. Work with a lawyer to submit a claim against Bona Vacantia.

If the deceased has no relatives including cousins or grandparents, their estate is labeled Bona Vacantia, and the government has a right to that property. If you are not a relative but you believe that you have a legitimate claim to the estate, you want to work with a lawyer to submit a claim to that estate. For example, if you were the domestic partner of the deceased but you had not been together long enough to be considered the next in line by the state, you may want to fight the claim.