I have read a lot of articles about what happens if you die without a will in a variety of situations (married, single, domestic partners, with/without children, etc.). Most "extreme" is that you die single without a will:

If you are single and childless, your parents will receive your entire estate if they are both living. Otherwise it will be divided among your siblings (including half-siblings) and your surviving parent, if one parent has already died.

If you have no surviving parents at the time of your death, then your entire estate will be divided among siblings, in equal parts.

If there are no surviving parents, siblings, or descendant’s of siblings (nieces and nephews), then the relatives on your mother’s side would inherit one-half of the estate, with the other one-half passing to the relatives on your father’s side.

But what happens if they can't locate any relatives (i.e. your parents immigrated to the US and you don't know your relatives)? What happens to your assets?

  • 4
    Escheat (provided mostly because it's such a great word) Apr 27, 2017 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


The short version is that the state government claims the estate when no relatives can be found and no will/estate plan exists. How the government uses that varies by state.

From Legal Zoom:

Should an individual die intestate, or without leaving a will, and without having any heirs, the government in the decedent's state of residence will generally claim the money. How the state government distributes the money varies depending on the state. Maryland, for example, directs unclaimed estate funds to the state Board of Education unless the decedent was receiving medical care under the Maryland Medical Assistance Program when she died. If the decedent benefited from that particular program, all proceeds from her estate go to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

An interesting bit is that a step-child often has a weaker claim to an estate than a distant relative.

Each state has a different time period before they absorb the estate's assets, certainly makes a simple will seem worthwhile.

  • What did you Google? I couldn't figure out the right combination of words to find that...
    – Michael
    Apr 27, 2017 at 16:13
  • "what happens to an estate with no beneficiary or relative" It may have been higher on my results list because I've read that article before.
    – Hart CO
    Apr 27, 2017 at 16:16

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