When we say a person died intestate, what we mean is that the person passed without a will. The laws determining property succession vary by state; Arizona has a number of specific guidelines dictating how an estate settles in the event someone dies intestate. Additionally, a number of assets do not fall under intestate succession guidelines. Finally, though not common, it is possible your property will pass to the state. This only happens in rare instances in which a person dies without a single living relative, including nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Cholewka Law’s experienced staff helps you navigate these confusing issues. We can also help you ensure your final wishes are met and your heirs provided for via comprehensive estate planning.

How are Your Assets Divided?

Generally, intestate beneficiaries are either your spouse or your closest living blood relatives. Distribution of property is as follows:


If you die intestate They inherit
Married without children Spouse inherits everything
Married with children conceived with that spouse Spouse inherits everything
With children but no spouse Children inherit everything
Married with children from a prior relationship Spouse inherits half of your separate property but zero interest in
your half of community property. Children inherit half of your separate
property and your half of community property
With living parents but no spouse or children Parents inherit everything
With siblings but no children, spouse, or parents Siblings inherit everything


What Constitutes Children in Arizona?

The share of your estate your child receives if you die intestate varies by factors such as how many children you have and whether or not you are married. Before your child can inherit, the state must confirm whether he or she is legally your child. In today’s world, this is not always a straightforward issue. The following are some guidelines Arizona uses to determine beneficiary status.

  • Children born during your marriage are presumed to be your child
  • Legally adopted children receive an intestate share at the same rate as biological children
  • Children born outside of marriage may receive a share if paternity was legally established
  • Children conceived but not born before death receive a share providing they survive 120 hours after birth
  • Grandchildren receive a share if your child and spouse passed before you
  • Children born, placed for adoption, and legally adopted by another family receive a share unless you specifically disinherit them
  • Unless legally adopted, foster children and stepchildren do not receive a share

What Does Your Spouse Receive?

The spousal share of your property depends on a couple of different factors, such as whether you owned your property as community property or separate property. Generally, property acquired during your marriage is community property. The exceptions are gifts and inheritances; even if acquired during the marriage, they are separate property if you kept them separate from community property.

Your spouse inherits your half of all community property, whether or not you have children with that spouse, except that if you have children from a different relationship, those descendants receive your half of community property. If property is owned with your spouse “with right of survivorship,” however, that property will pass to your spouse. Any separate property you own is divided the same way: either all to your spouse or shared among your spouse and any descendants not from that relationship.

Other Rules of Property Succession

Arizona provides further guidelines beyond determining beneficiaries when a person dies intestate.

  • Arizona’s survivorship period is 120 hours. This means your heir must outlive you by 120 hours in order to inherit.
  • Half-relatives inherit at the same rate as full-blooded relatives, meaning a sibling with whom you share only one parent receives the same share as siblings with whom you share both parents.
  • Beneficiaries entitled to an intestate share of your property need not be legal citizens of the United States.
  • Relatives conceived before your death but born after it inherit in the same way as if they had been born during your lifetime, as long as he or she survives 120 hours after birth.

What Property Does Not Fall Under the Intestate Umbrella?

The only property subject to intestate succession laws is that which would typically pass through a will, such as assets solely in your name. Some of these include:

  • Retirement account funds, such as those in an IRA or 401(k) that have a designated beneficiary
  • Property transfered to a living trust
  • Proceeds from life insurance that has a designated beneficiary
  • Payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) account funds
  • Real property that has a recorded Beneficiary Deed
  • Vehicle registrations that have a designated beneficiary
  • Joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship

The team at Cholewka Law is passionate about assisting families through the trying, confusing process of intestate succession. Please call us today to discuss your unique situation.