When A Person Dies, Who Does The Inheritance Go To?


When a person passes away, there is always an outpouring of emotion coming from friends and family members. Once the emotion calms down, it is time to determine how to distribute the assets of that person’s estate. Inheritance beneficiaries are determined by how the estate was set up and what precautions the deceased took to make sure their money went where they wanted it to go.


Anyone can establish a trust, and a trust is one of the most efficient ways to handle an estate’s assets. When the trust is established, the assets of the owner are taken over by the trust and are considered property of the trust. When that person passes away, the instructions built into the creation of the trust dictate how the deceased’s bills are to be paid and how the assets are distributed.

Probate Court

A trust is convenient because it does not have to go through a probate court after a person passes on. Any other form of estate goes through probate, and the rules of probate dictate how assets are distributed. The laws of probate vary from state to state, but there are some laws in common that will help people to understand the general concept of probate.

Obligations Of The Estate

Regardless as to whether there is a will or not from the deceased, the first step of any probate process is to take information from the creditors of the deceased and then work on paying those obligations. The court will usually instruct the administrator of the estate to use all assets, including selling off property, to satisfy estate debts. If, after paying the obligations, there is nothing left, then the estate is closed and no one gets any distribution.

When There Is A Will

When the deceased had a will, then that will is submitted to the probate court for confirmation. During this time, any party who feels that the will is unfair can contest the will. Once the will passes through probate, any remaining assets of the estate will be distributed based on the wishes of the deceased in the will.

When There Is No Will

If the deceased did not have a will, then the probate court will distribute funds remaining after paying off estate obligations based on the relationship to the deceased. The first in line would be the current spouse. If there is no current spouse, then any living children would have the assets split among them. If there are no children, then the next of kin would be awarded the assets of the estate.

Hollywood has made it seem like people named in a will are automatically rich beyond their wildest dreams. The truth is that there are several elements that could interfere with someone’s expected inheritance. If there is no will, then the probate court will follow its rules. If all estate assets were used to pay estate obligations, then no one will get an inheritance. If you are named in a will, then you will have to be patient to see if you are going to receive a financial windfall or not.