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Intestate (meaning and examples)

Updated on October 24, 2010

Meaning of intestate

Intestate (pronounced in-TESS-tate) means having died without leaving a will or a trust that will instruct how your possessions will be divided among your heirs after you die.

It is an adjective that can be used to describe a person:

Marilyn died intestate, leaving no will that would say how her property would be dealt with after her death.

or it can describe things:

Marilyn's possessions are intestate, since she did not have a will at the time of her death.

The noun form of intestate is intestacy.

Image courtesy of NAFEP
Image courtesy of NAFEP

Examples of intestacy

The two most common scenarios where a person will have died intestate are:

  • they did not have a will or trust
  • the will or trust turns out to be invalid

The person who has written a will for himself/herself is called a testator. For a will to be valid:

  • The testator must make it clear that the document is his/her will and that he/she has written it; this is usually called "publication" of the will, and it is typically done by titling the document "last will and testament"
  • The testator must declare that all previous wills and codicils (amendments to a will) are hereby revoked. Otherwise, the newer will revokes previous wills and codicils only where they are inconsistent with each other. (If the newer will is completely inconsistent with the previous will and/or codicils, then the older wills/codicils are rendered revoked by implication)
  • The testator must affirm that he/she has the ability to dispose of his property with his/her free will.
  • The testator must sign and date the will, typically witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries. Anything written after the testator's signature will be rendered invalid.
  • The will must be written with the assistance of an attorney if the testator is under 18 years old.

Consequences of intestacy

If a person or estate is intestate, then the disposition of that person's or estate's possessions are handled by probate law. A court proceeding will determine how the intestate possessions will be divided among heirs, creditors, and anyone else who has a rightful claim to some of the intestate possessions.

Because this process is expensive, lengthy, and can sometimes get ugly (especially with unscrupulous descendants, or con artists), dying intestate is something that should be avoided.

Writing a last will, or setting up a living trust before death, ensures that the process of transfer of possessions will happen inexpensively, quickly, and without abuse or rancor among family members.


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      Suriya 4 years ago

      My grand mother wrote a Will to her 9 children in kerala, my Mother died before my grand mothers death and no new will was written. Now what will be the status of the will and whther i have share in it? and how?

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      Suzie B 6 years ago

      Always remember that a Will does not mean avoiding Probate. A Will is instructions to a Judge. To avoid Probate, you must have anything in your name quit claimed to you AND a person of your choosing, so that when you pass, it automatically becomes that person's property. This avoids probate.

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      annatte akama 6 years ago

      detailed description,informative yet very simple to understand.its a good research site.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      A will, unfortunately, can't guarantee there won't be "rancor among family members." It depends upon who gets what....I've observed some pretty ugly quarrels among family members who weren't in agreement with the terms of someone's will.

      However, anyone who owns property should have a will to avoid letting the state make the decision of what happens to his or her possessions.


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      vinay maurya 7 years ago

      so good content..........very nice discription.