What happens to the house when owner dies without a will?

What happens to the house when owner dies without a will?
Home $$$s and Sense
Date Published: April 30, 2010

Dear Sue,
My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in January. He passed away last Friday. None of us, including himself, knew that he would pass so quickly.
My parents had been working on their will for several years but they never signed it. Their estate isn’t a sizable one but they did own a home together.
I know that you can’t answer all of our legal questions but what happens with the house when one dies without a will?
~ Grieving Gretta

Dear Gretta,
I am so sorry about your father. You have my condolences.
Many people, myself included, think that they are going to live forever. Somehow we just never get around to signing our wills.
When someone dies without a will it is known as dying “intestate.” State law requires that the property go through the probate process in order to have legal title properly transferred to the heirs.
A representative, known as an administrator, is appointed by the probate court. The administrator’s job is to collect all of the claims against the estate, pay the creditors and then distribute all remaining property in accordance with the laws.
It is important to know that estate laws vary by state.
The main difference between dying testate (with a will) and dying intestate (without a will) is that a testate estate is distributed the way the decedent spells it out in the will.
An intestate estate is distributed to beneficiaries in accordance with the laws of the state in which the property is located.
Probating an estate without a will is a lot more expensive. The administrator is paid a fee for services. The cost is taken out of the property that the heirs would have inherited.
There are other ways to transfer ownership outside of a will. Joint tenancy with the right of survivorship is one way. That could be how your parents held title to their home. A copy of the deed will let you know.
In any case, I strongly urge you or anyone that hasn’t prepared a will to contact an estate planning attorney.
It will be a matter of good Home $$$s and Sense.

Sue Thompson is owner and sales manager of HomeTown Realtors in Auburn. She can be reached at
seesue@seehometown.com, or on the Web at homedollarsandsense.com.