Sam is married to Kayla and they have two children together. Sam never executes a will, and at his death, all of his property and assets are valued at $500,000. Both his wife and his children survive him. Since Sam does not have a will, how will his property be distributed?

Whenever a person dies without a will, that person is said to have died “intestate.” If someone dies intestate, then the state’s intestacy statute will be used to determine how the person’s property should be distributed. Utah’s Probate Code governs how property is divided in these situations.[1]

In the scenario above, since Sam’s children are also Kayla’s children, so long as Kayla survives Sam, and the two are still married at the time of Sam’s death, then Sam’s entire estate will pass to Kayla.[2] Under this scenario, Sam’s children will not be entitled to any portion of his estate.

If, however, Sam’s children are from a previous marriage, then the result is much different. In this scenario, Kayla would receive the first $75,000 plus one-half of any remaining balance of the estate.[3] In calculating that amount, Kayla would receive $287,500 (75,000 + one-half of 425,000). Sam’s children will then each receive one-half of the remaining balance, which would be $106,250 each.

If this situation is modified even further, to say that Sam was never married (or at least divorced at the time of his death) and never had any children, then the calculations change again and take into account parents, siblings, and possibly grandparents.[4] If Sam’s parents survive him, then the parents will share Sam’s estate equally. If only one parent survives, then that parent will receive the entire estate. If neither parent survives, then Sam’s siblings will receive equal shares of his estate. There are a few more scenarios contemplated by Utah’s intestacy laws that delve deeper into family trees in an attempt to find an heir of the decedent, but if after all of these possibilities are exhausted, and there is no surviving heir, then the entire estate is distributed to the state for the benefit of the state school fund.[5] This situation, however, is very unlikely to occur.

While this is a general description of how Utah’s intestacy laws function, there are some other various nuances in the law that may affect how any given individual’s estate would be distributed upon their death. Therefore, if an individual wants to ensure that a specified person will receive a specified amount (or piece of property) it is critical that a will be executed. If an individual wishes to have their estate distributed according to the intestate laws, it is still crucial that the individual consults with an attorney to understand how the specific intestacy laws will apply in their given situation.

[1] Utah Code § 75-2-101

[2] Utah Code § 75-2-102(1)(a)(ii)

[3] Utah Code § 75-2-102(1)(b)

[4] Utah Code § 75-2-103

[5] Utah Code § 75-2-105