Who Inherits When There Is No Will?

Sarah J. Randall

Author: Sarah J. Randall

POST DATE: 9.16.22
Ccha  Estate Planning

When a person dies without creating a valid will, the probate court follows the laws of intestate succession to determine who inherits the decedent’s property. The results are not always ideal. In this blog, we briefly explain why a will is important and who inherits when there is no will under Indiana estate laws.

Why Is a Will Important?

A last will and testament (or will) is a key estate planning document. It sets out instructions for distributing assets upon death. With a will, you can select an executor to handle your estate and also name a guardian for any minor or disabled children.

Maintain Control

A will gives a person control over how their assets will be distributed. By putting your instructions and desires on paper, you can create your legacy. As we’ll explore in more detail below, without a will, you have no say in who gets your hard-earned assets.

Prevent Family Disagreements

Losing a loved one often stirs up strong emotions. Issues from the past may come up and cause a simple disagreement to land a family in court. By creating a will, you can help prevent arguments before they start. When you memorialize your wishes, your family won’t have to speculate or quarrel about your true intentions.


CCHA inheritance blog graphic

What Is Intestate Succession?

Intestate succession is the order of priority in which a deceased person’s (the decedent) legal heirs inherits their estate. When someone dies without a will, the laws of intestate succession provide a list of family members who can rightfully inherit the decedent’s assets.

It’s important to note that not all property is subject to Indiana inheritance laws. In the probate and estate planning world, assets are categorized as either probate or non-probate assets. Probate assets are those titled solely in the decedent’s name. Only probate assets are affected by intestate succession laws. Non-probate assets are those that have either a beneficiary designation or are jointly owned. For example, a life insurance policy, IRA account, or property titled as joint tenants with rights of survivorship are all non-probate assets. These assets automatically transfer to the named beneficiary or joint owner with or without a will.

Who Inherits When There Is No Will?

There’s a common misconception that without a will the state takes everything. In fact, it’s quite rare for that to happen. As we explain below, there’s a long list of family members who have the right to the decedent’s estate before it reaches the state.

The laws of intestate succession provide for different outcomes depending on the decedent’s familial situation at the time of death. Let’s look at a few scenarios, and keep in mind this is a general breakdown. For more details, contact the estate planning attorneys at Church Church Hittle + Antrim.

Decedent Is Married with Children

If the decedent is married and has children (or grandchildren) with their spouse, the spouse inherits one-half of the estate, and the children (or grandchildren) inherit the other one-half.

If the decedent’s children are from a previous spouse, the surviving spouse gets an amount equal to 25% of the remainder of the fair market value of the decedent’s real property minus any liens or encumbrances on that property.

Decedent Is Married Without Children

If the decedent has no children and no surviving parents, the spouse is entitled to the entire estate. If the decedent’s parents are still alive, they inherit one-fourth of the estate, and the surviving spouse inherits the remaining three-fourths.

Decedent Is Single with Children

If a single person dies and leaves only their children behind, the decedent’s entire estate passes to the surviving children. If a decedent’s child died before the decedent and was survived by their own children, the grandchildren inherit their deceased parent’s share of the estate.

Decedent Is Single Without Children

When a single person with no children dies, their estate is distributed first to any surviving parents and brothers and sisters, then to nieces and nephews, then to grandparents, then to aunts and uncles, and finally to first cousins.

Contact the Estate Planning Attorneys at CCHA

Whether you’re handling a loved one’s estate without a will or you want to create a will for yourself, let Church Church Hittle + Antrim help. As one of the most established firms in Indiana, we take pride in offering a family-like atmosphere to our clients. We’ve been helping families protect their assets and distribute their wealth for over 140 years. Call one of our offices or contact us online to learn what we can do for you, your family, and your legacy.