What Happens To Your Assets If You Die Without A Will?


When an individual passes away without a will, they are said to have died "intestate." This means there is no legal document that specifies how their assets should be distributed among their survivors.

As a result, the distribution of the deceased's estate will be handled according to the intestate succession laws.

Distribution of Assets According to Intestate Succession Act



The intestate succession laws provide a structured formula for distributing a deceased's assets when no valid will exists. These laws typically prioritize the deceased's spouse and children but can include provisions for other relatives depending on the deceased’s familial situation. The intent is to mimic a fair distribution as the deceased might have intended.

Common Scenarios and Asset Division

  • Married with Children: In this scenario, the spouse typically receives a portion of the estate (often the first share or a fixed percentage), and the remainder is equally divided among the children.

  • Married without Children: The surviving spouse often receives the entire estate if there are no children. However, if there are surviving parents or other relatives, they may also be entitled to a portion under some laws.

  • Single with Surviving Relatives: If the deceased was single, the estate usually goes to the parents. If there are no surviving parents, siblings or their children might inherit the estate. Further distant relatives are considered if there are no closer kin.

  • No Surviving Relatives: When there are no identifiable surviving relatives, the estate typically escheats to the state, meaning it becomes property of the government.


If you see that your circumstances slightly (or vastly) differ from any of the scenarios above, scroll to our header titled "Other Important Considerations & Questions".

Starting The Process of Estate Administration



Surviving family members will often be incharged of managing the estate of the deceased person.

Immediate Consequences: Asset Freezing

Immediately following death, the deceased’s assets are typically frozen. This means that bank accounts become inaccessible, properties cannot be sold or transferred, and any financial transactions involving the deceased’s estate are put on hold.

This freezing of assets remains until a legal authority, such as a probate court, appoints an administrator to manage the estate.

Step-by-Step Guide to the Legal Process

  1. Filing for Administration: The first step is for a potential administrator, usually a close relative, to apply to the probate court to be officially appointed as the estate’s administrator.

  2. Notification of Stakeholders: Once appointed, the administrator must notify all potential heirs and any creditors of the death and the initiation of estate proceedings.

  3. Asset Collection and Valuation: The administrator will gather and value all assets of the estate, ensuring everything is accounted for properly.

  4. Paying Debts and Taxes: Before distributing any assets to heirs, the administrator must settle any outstanding debts and taxes owed by the deceased.

  5. Distribution of Assets: Following the laws of intestate succession, the remaining assets are distributed to the heirs according to their legal entitlements.

Role and Appointment of an Administrator

The role of an administrator involves managing the deceased’s estate from the initial steps of securing assets to the final distribution of inheritances. The court typically appoints the closest adult relative or another eligible person as the administrator. This appointment is crucial as the administrator must act impartially, responsibly, and in accordance with both the law and the best interests of all heirs.

Common Misconceptions About Dying Without a Will



Despite this, common myths (whether through hearsay or misinterpretation) persist about deaths without wills. Below are a few statements we often hear:

Myths vs. Facts

  • Myth: If I die without a will, all my assets will automatically go to my spouse.

  • Fact: While spouses often receive a significant portion of the estate, they may not inherit everything, especially if there are children or other relatives in the picture.

  • Myth: The state takes everything if there’s no will.

  • Fact: The state only inherits the estate if absolutely no surviving relatives can be found, which is a rare situation.

Legal Misunderstandings Corrected

  • Misunderstanding: Without a will, the distribution of assets will be quick and straightforward.

  • Correction: The process without a will can often be more complex and time-consuming than with a will, as the courts must appoint an administrator and strictly follow the laws of intestate succession.

  • Misunderstanding: I don’t need a will if I don’t have many assets.

  • Correction: Even small estates can benefit from having a will, as it clarifies your wishes and can prevent familial disputes or legal complications.

Additional Clarifications & Questions

What are the specific legal responsibilities of an administrator in managing the deceased’s estate?

The administrator's responsibilities include securing the person's assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remainder of the estate according to intestate laws. They must act impartially and prudently, maintain records of all transactions, and sometimes provide these records to the probate court. Administrators interact with banks and other financial institutions to access and manage the deceased's assets once they obtain the necessary legal authority through a Grant of Letters of Administration.

Can a probate court deny the appointment of a close relative as an administrator?

Yes, a court can deny the appointment if there are valid concerns about the relative’s ability to manage the estate effectively, such as a history of financial irresponsibility or a conflict of interest with other heirs.

How are the proportions of an estate determined when distributed to a spouse and children under intestate laws?

These proportions are usually defined by statute and can vary by jurisdiction. Commonly, the spouse might receive a fixed portion (such as one-third to one-half of the estate), with the remainder divided equally among the children.

In the case of blended families, how does intestate succession handle stepchildren or half-siblings?

Generally, stepchildren do not inherit under intestate laws unless they were legally adopted by the deceased. Half-siblings, however, are usually treated the same as full siblings and will share in the estate equally unless the law specifies otherwise.

What specific challenges arise when there are no identifiable family members and the state takes over the estate?

The main challenges include a thorough search for any possible heirs, which can be time-consuming and costly. If no heirs are found, the estate is managed and eventually absorbed by the state. This process can take several years depending on the jurisdiction's specific procedures.

For someone who had significant digital assets, how are these handled if the person dies intestate?

Digital assets are still a relatively new area for many legal systems. Generally, the administrator would handle digital assets similar to physical assets, by securing them and distributing them to heirs. However, accessing digital assets can be complicated without passwords or explicit instructions, highlighting the importance of including digital assets in estate planning.

Legal Support and Resources

At Jacque Law, our probate services are designed to simplify and manage the complexities that often arise during the probate process. As a probate lawyer specializing in estate planning, we can provide invaluable assistance when navigating intestate succession. This involves taking charge of administering estates where no valid will is present, ensuring that all legal, tax, and administrative aspects are correctly handled.

We help by filing the necessary legal documents, efficiently resolving disputes among heirs, and ensuring that the estate is distributed strictly according to statutory laws. Our role also includes offering strategic advice on how to minimize taxes and settle the deceased's debts efficiently, aiming to maximize the value of the estate for the beneficiaries.

Handling these delicate matters requires a blend of legal expertise and sensitivity, qualities that we prioritize to offer peace of mind to the families we work with. At Jacque Law, we are committed to providing a supportive and thorough service, helping you navigate through these challenging times with professionalism and care.


Jacqueline Chua, Managing Director

+65 6280 7388