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How Can You Inherit The Property Of A Stranger Without A Will In Utah

If you die without making a will, a court will distribute your property according to the laws of your state. This process is called “intestate succession” or “intestacy.” Who gets what depends on who your closest relatives are. The most likely recipients are your spouse, your children, your parents, or your siblings. Intestate succession probably won’t determine the fate of all your property.  Property that passes outside a will is not subject to intestacy rules. For example, property you put in a living trust passes directly to the beneficiaries you named. The same is true for other property like life insurance or a retirement account — for which you directly named a beneficiary.

Intestate Heirs & Property: Who Gets What?

While intestate succession will vary from state to state, there’s often a common order of succession that takes place. With some slight variations, the order of succession will be something along the lines of:

  • Your spouse
  • Your children
  • Your parents
  • Your siblings
  • Your grandparents
  • Your next of kin
  • If no next of kin, escheat (or transfer) to the state

Keep in mind, every state has its own rules, so the above may slightly vary. If you have a blended family or other special dynamics, your Estate Plan becomes even more important. Adopted children, step children or an heir who did harmful wrong or criminally caused your death could alter the order and call for special circumstances. And finally, it’s important to note that not all assets are subject to intestate succession laws. Assets in a Trust, those that are payable on death (or TOD) accounts and policies that have direct beneficiaries named could avoid state laws and bypass the probate and/or the intestate process.

Intestate Succession Examples

Jenny died intestate in Utah. Jenny was divorced and had two adult children. Based on Utah intestate succession laws, her children will inherit everything. However, there is a caveat here: a good rule of thumb is to think about assets Jenny owns in her own name most often these would not pass based on the rules of intestate succession. So, as long as proper beneficiaries were designated, the following would not be passed through per Utah intestate succession laws. 

  • Assets put into her Living Trust
  • Her life insurance proceeds
  • Her IRA, 401(k) or other retirement accounts
  • Any payable on death and/or transfer on death (TOD) accounts
  • Any property she owned as joint tenancy, or any community property with right to survivorship
  • Any vehicle that’s held by a TOD registration

Everything listed above will automatically go to either the beneficiary she named on that account, or the surviving co-owner of a property.

Jenny died intestate in Utah. Bill was married but had no children. According to Utah intestate law, Jenny’s wife would receive everything except the following:

  • Property transferred into his Living Trust
  • His life insurance proceeds
  • His IRA, 401(k) or other retirement accounts
  • Any payable on death bank accounts
  • Property he owned with his wife in joint tenancy

Important Intestate Succession Terms to Understand

Understanding intestate succession can be somewhat confusing. Knowing the terms that are typically used can help.

  • Intestate – When you die without a Will, you have died intestate. Alternatively, if you die with a valid Will, you have died testate.
  • Domicile – Your permanent, legal home.
  • Descent – How real property is distributed; property passes by descent.
  • Distribution – How personal property will pass after you die.
  • Distributee – The receiver of property.
  • Descendants – Your bloodline: father, child, grandchild.
  • Next of Kin – Living people standing at the same closest degree of a blood relationship.
  • Decedent – Someone who is deceased.
  • Consanguinity – Blood relationship between two people.
  • Lineal Consanguinity – Blood relationship in a direct line from one another.
  • Ascending Line – Daughter, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
  • Descending Line – Son, grandson, great grandson.
  • Collateral Consanguinity – Blood relationship within the ancestors, but do not descend from one another: Aunt, niece vs. mother, daughter.
  • Escheat – When property returns to a state if a decedent has no heirs.
  • Dower – Provisions a law made for widows to receive husband’s property upon his death

Who Can Challenge a Will?

Yes, it is possible to sue a will during the probate process, but not everyone can sue to contest a will.

For instance, you cannot challenge your cousin’s will just because you believe his estate would be better off in the hands of another relative. You also cannot contest a will just because you do not believe you received a fair share of the real estate or bank account or some specific piece of personal property.

Can You Sue to Contest a Will in Probate Court?

According to basic probate laws, only “interested persons” may challenge a will, and only for valid legal reasons. The Probate Code identifies “interested persons” as heirs (family members), beneficiaries, creditors, and other parties who have a property right or claim against the estate being administered.

Valid legal reasons to contest a will include:

  • Incapacity of the deceased person when they wrote the will
  • Fraud or someone exerting undue influence over the testator
  • Insufficient or inappropriate witnesses
  • Unclear provisions of the will
  • The existence of a later valid will


Who Has Standing to Contest a Will?

While laws vary from state to state, all state laws have requirements that must be met before a will contest can take place. The first requirement is “legal standing.”

The only person who has legal standing to challenge a will and sue for inheritance is someone who is:

  • Named in the will
  • Not a beneficiary but would inherit under the will if a judge deems the will invalid

Standing is the first requirement to overcome to contest a will. You must either show that you were named in the will (or should have been) or show that you would have received something of value (typically money) if the person had died without a will.

Beneficiaries Can Contest a Will

Who is a beneficiary of a will? This means those named in the will. This can include a surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, and other relatives, but it can also include friends, faith communities, universities, charities, and even pets. Beneficiaries have the standing to challenge a will.

Heirs Can Contest a Will

Who is a beneficiary of a will? This means those named in the will. This can include a survivin

Heirs are the most commonly named beneficiaries in a will. Heirs are relatives who would inherit even if the decedent had died “intestate” (without a will). Heirs include spouses, children, parents, grandparents, and siblings. Heirs can challenge a will if they were omitted or were left with a disproportionate share in the inheritance. Heirs have the standing to challenge a will because they would have received a share of the estate through the laws of intestate.

g spouse, children, grandchildren, and other relatives, but it can also include friends, faith communities, universities, charities, and even pets. Beneficiaries have the standing to challenge a will.

Minors Can Contest a Will

Minors cannot challenge a will until they have reached the age of majority (typically age 18). This is because minors are not legally able to initiate legal proceedings. A parent or guardian may initiate a lawsuit on their behalf. Any will can be contested if you have standing and valid reasons to challenge it. However, it may not be worth contesting a will. For example, some wills include a “no-contest” clause. A no-contest clause says that if a beneficiary or an heir challenges a will and loses, they will not inherit at all. They are disinherited.


No-contest clauses are not enforced in every state:

  • In some states, if you sue and lose, you can still inherit what you would have inherited if you had not sued.
  • Some states enforce no-contest clauses unless the person bringing the lawsuit has a good reason to sue.

Consult with a local estate planning attorney to learn how your state probate courts handle no-

Consequences of a Will Contest

The most obvious consequence of contesting a will is the cost of going to court. Most people will choose to hire a probate litigation attorney to bring a will contest lawsuit to court. Depending on the size of the potential inheritance and the complexity of the case, the expense of a will contest may or may not be cost-effective. Your lawyer can advise you on this. On the other hand, if the estate is large, it may be well worth the time and money to challenge a will in probate court.

No-Contest Clauses in Wills

If you are a beneficiary of a will and there is a no-contest clause, there is a possibility that if you lose your lawsuit, you could be disinherited. But again, that will depend upon whether your state enforces no-contest clauses. If you are not a beneficiary of the will and you sue for an inheritance, the no-contest clause will not affect your case because you would not have inherited anyway.

Personal Implications of Contesting a Will

There may be personal consequences as well. Loved ones may disagree with your decision to bring a lawsuit. They may have different opinions about the decedent’s (the person who wrote the last will and testament) mental capacity. And, of course, people and institutions with their own financial interests at stake will likely take issue with the legal challenge.

Rules and Laws Defining Intestate Heirs

Determining who is entitled to inherit comes down to each state’s “intestacy” laws. Sometimes it’s the state where the decedent lived that determines his heirs. Sometimes it’s the state where his physical property was located at the time of his death, and to really complicate things, sometimes it’s both. When a decedent leaves a will, his heirs may be beneficiaries under its terms or they may not be. Likewise, all beneficiaries are not necessarily heirs. Here’s an example of how an intestate estate one without a will is typically distributed.

The Heirs That Are Eligible to Inherit

  • The order in which heirs inherit from a decedent’s estate when he has no estate plan is called “intestate succession.” It’s a list of kin who have the first right to inherit. Someone further down on the list typically will not inherit anything if those who are ahead of him are still living.
  • A surviving spouse almost invariably receives at least half the decedent’s estate. She may receive the entire estate if the decedent leaves no living children or grandchildren.
  • Spouses and children typically share the entire state if all are living. If a child has predeceased the decedent, his children the decedent’s grandchildren — will typically inherit their parent’s share. Otherwise, they may not be entitled to personally inherit if their parents are still living.
  • Parents and siblings are typically next in line, followed by aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. In some states, the decedent’s parents may share his estate with his surviving spouse if he has no living descendants — children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
  • Unmarried partners, friends, and charities are not heirs, regardless of how emotionally close they may have been or how much the decedent supported them during his lifetime.
  • Adopted children are heirs just as though they were born to the decedent, as well as children that may be born after his death. Stepchildren are typically not considered heirs or entitled to inherit from their stepparent by law if he did not leave a will naming them as beneficiaries.
  • An heir who criminally caused the death of the decedent is often barred from inheriting from him.

Property Not Subject to Intestate Succession

  • Heirs can only inherit from a decedent’s probate estate and yes, probate is still required without a will. The process just follows state law rather than a decedent’s final wishes. The probate estate does not include property that passes directly to a named beneficiary by some other means, such as by deed or a life insurance policy. If a decedent dies owning only real estate titled with someone else with rights of survivorship and a life insurance policy naming his son as beneficiary, his other heirs would receive nothing because he would have no probate estate.

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