Dying Without Papers A.K.A. Dying Intestate

Dying intestate is also known as dying without a Will or a Revocable Living Trust. Let’s use Cody as an example. Cody dies. His family scrambles to find his Will or a Revocable Living Trust. They search through his files, his boxes, his closets, his shed, his computer, his fireproof box and his safe, all to no avail. Cody did not have a safe deposit box. (This may have been just as well since a loved one would need to get court assistance to get into the safe deposit box. A document would need to be filed with the court clerk, asking for authority to get into the box). The family concludes, sadly, that Cody does not have a Will or a Revocable Living Trust. What happens now?

Arizona statutes have very specific rules about who gets what if someone dies without a Will or a Revocable Living Trust.


If Cody is married and has no kids, and Kathy is alive, Kathy will get 100%.

If Cody is married and has kids only with Kathy, and Kathy is alive, Kathy will get 100%.

HOWEVER, if Cody is married and has kids from a prior marriage, this isn’t true. Then, Kathy will get 1/2 of Cody’s separate property and that’s it. Everything else will go to his kids. Cody may not have much separate property if he merged all of his assets with Kathy when they married.


If Cody is single and has kids, his kids will get 100%.

If Cody does not have kids, then his descendants (grandkids, great grandkids), will get 100%.


If Cody does not have descendants, then his then living parent(s) will get 100%.

If Cody’s parents are both dead, then his parents’ descendants will get 100%. This means that Cody’s siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, great nephews, great great nieces and great great nephews will share the 100%.

If Cody’s parents don’t have any descendants, then 50% will go to Cody’s paternal grandparents. 50% will go to Cody’s maternal grandparents.

If Cody’s paternal grandparents and maternal grandparents are dead, then 50% will go to all of the paternal grandparents’ descendants and 50% will go to all of the maternal grandparents’ descendants.

If Cody has absolutely no relatives, then the state will get 100%.

I do several presentations a year and without fail, at least one person at the presentation will say “I don’t want the state to get all of my stuff”. You can see from how the statute reads, that it is very hard for the state to step in and get all of your stuff.

NOW that you know how the statute works, let’s look at how someone can die without a Will or Revocable Living Trust, i.e. “intestate”, but not come within the terms of the statute.

Let’s say that Cody dies. He is single and has a girlfriend, Sienna. Cody does not have any children. Cody has a 401K and life insurance at work. Both of those assets need a beneficiary named. Cody names Sienna as the primary beneficiary. This means that Sienna gets all of the 401K and life insurance money, not Cody’s parents, etc.

A named beneficiary TRUMPS everything. What does this mean? Let’s say Cody had a Will that says everything goes to his brother. Cody dies. In our example above, because the 401K and the life insurance both name Sienna, those 2 assets go to Sienna, not to Cody’s brother, regardless of what the Will says.

If Cody dies “intestate” and has not named beneficiaries on his life insurance, etc., then all of Cody’s assets will need to go through probate. Papers will need to be filed with the court and an executor (called a Personal Representative in Arizona) will need to be appointed.

Naming a beneficiary on an asset keeps that asset from needing probate. If Cody named a beneficiary on his life insurance, 401K, bank accounts, investment accounts, and his house, then probate would be unnecessary.

Get in contact with me today to make sure your estate planning affairs are in order.

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way