Dying Without a Will in Arizona

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The intestacy succession laws found in Title 14 of the Arizona Revised Statutes can determine who inherits a deceased person's probate estate if they were an Arizona resident or they owned real estate located in Arizona at the time of death. "Intestacy" means that they died without having made a last will and testament to dictate who they wanted to receive their property, so the state decides for them.

Succession laws are a prescribed, legislative order of relatives, from who gets to inherit first and who gets to inherit last. Anyone not mentioned on the list doesn't inherit, and those who are third or fourth down the line typically only inherit if everyone who's ahead of them is also deceased.

Spouses, Descendants, Parents and Siblings

Here's what would happen under the Arizona intestacy laws if the deceased person was survived by a spouse and/or descendants, and/or parents, and/or siblings. Descendants are the deceased's offspring and their offspring's children or grandchildren, continuing through generations. Arizona is a community property state, so that contributes to this succession order.

  • The surviving spouse would inherit all the deceased spouse's probate estate if they were married and children were born to the marriage.
  • The surviving spouse would inherit all the deceased spouse's community property and half the deceased spouse's separate property if the deceased had children who aren't also the children of the surviving spouse. The children would inherit the other half of the decedent's separate property.

A spouse's separate property is defined as premarital property under Arizona law, or any property that was given specifically to that one spouse as a gift or a bequest. Marital or community property is everything else that was acquired during the marriage.

  • The surviving spouse would inherit the deceased spouse's entire probate estate if the deceased left no descendants, parents, or siblings.
  • The deceased person's descendants would inherit the entire probate estate per stirpes if they did not leave a surviving spouse.
  • The deceased's parents would inherit the entire estate in equal shares if the decedent was survived by parents, but no spouse or descendants. The surviving parent would inherit the entire estate if the other parent predeceased the decedent.
  • The siblings will inherit the entire estate per stirpes if the decedent did not leave parents, a spouse, or descendants.

"Per stirpes" means that a descendant's own children would inherit their parent's share if the descendant was no longer living, having predeceased the original decedent. It's a Latin term that translates to "by the plant."

No Spouse, Descendants, Parents, or Siblings

The deceased person's property would pass to their nieces and nephews if they died without a will and they weren't survived by a spouse, descendants, parents, or siblings. The property would go to grandparents, aunts or uncles, great aunts or uncles, cousins of any degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a predeceased spouse if the decedent wasn't survived by any nieces or nephews.

The entire probate estate would "escheat" or pass by default to the State of Arizona in the unlikely circumstance that the deceased person wasn't survived by any family members at all, or if they can't be identified and located.

What Will You Inherit?

You might not inherit even if you determine that you're entitled to an intestate share of your relative's estate according to these rules. Arizona's intestacy laws govern only property that's subject to probate. Your relative might have left all non-probate property, such as assets held in a living trust or that bear beneficiary designations so they transfer directly to the individual named without court involvement.

It's also possible that the decedent might have owed debts at the time of their death that exceeded the value of their probate estate. The estate would be insolvent in this case. There would be no property to transfer because it would have to be liquidated to pay the deceased's debts and creditors.

Consult with an Arizona probate attorney if you're not sure of your legal rights as an intestate heir.

NOTE: The information contained in this article is not legal advice, and it's not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information contained in this article might not represent recent changes to the law. Please consult with an attorney for current legal advice.