What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Utah?


You are never too young, or too old, to start your end-of-life planning. That means that even if you’re a resident of Utah, the state with the youngest population, now is the perfect time to start your end-of-life planning. 

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End-of-life planning means making important decisions about both what you want to happen and what you don’t want to happen after you are gone. For most people, it also involves deciding if you need a will. A will is a legal document that sets out what you want to happen to your property when you die. You can also use a will to nominate a guardian for your minor children. 

Only you can decide if a will is right for you. Part of making that decision is knowing what will happen if you don’t have a will. Read on as we explain what happens if you die without a will in Utah. A plan might be the ticket to peace of mind you’ve been waiting for.

Utah’s Intestacy Laws Explained

If you don’t have a will, then intestacy laws will direct what happens to your property when you die. Every state has its own intestacy laws. If you die without a will in Utah, then Utah’s intestacy laws will determine what happens to your property.

Much of what happens with your property if you die intestate is determined by whether your property is real or personal, the value of your property, and whether or not you have a surviving spouse and/or children. Keep reading as we explain key parts of Utah’s intestacy laws. It’s normal to find this process confusing, but we’ll work through it together. 

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How Does Probate Work in Utah If There Is No Will?

In Utah, probate is the court-supervised process of settling a deceased person’s estate. An estate is “the collection of real and personal property belonging to the decedent at the time of their death, as well as any debts they owed.” Decedent is another term for the deceased.

What happens if you read this article and you like how Utah distributes intestate property? Does that mean you can file for probate in Utah after a loved one dies? Not necessarily. A probate case can only be filed in Utah if either of the following is true:

  • The deceased resided in Utah at the time of their death
  • The deceased owned property in Utah

This means that you can only file for probate in Utah if your loved one was a Utah resident or owned property in Utah at the time of their death. If neither of these apply then you will most likely be subject to the intestacy laws of the state where your loved one resided. 

Nonprobate property

Not all property is subject to probate. One of the primary objectives of probate is to transfer the ownership of property. Property that automatically passes ownership does not need to go through probate. Examples of nonprobate property includes the following:

  • Property held in joint tenancy because it automatically passes to the surviving joint tenant
  • Property with a beneficiary designation such as a life insurance policy or retirement plan

Small estate affidavit

As you read this, you should keep in mind that probate is not always necessary. Even if there is probate property, some estates can be settled via a small estate affidavit. A small estate affidavit is not filed with the court. Instead, it is signed, notarized, and provided to the requisite third parties. 

A small estate affidavit is an option for an estate if the following is true:

  • The value of the entire estate does not exceed $100,000
  • 30 days have elapsed since the deceased’s death
  • No application for a personal representative has been filed
  • The claiming successor is entitled to payment or delivery of the property

Informal probate 

If the estate does not qualify as a small estate then probate may be necessary. In Utah, probate is required if either of the following are true:

  • The estate includes real property.
  • The estate has assets worth more than $100,000.

Probate used to be a lengthy and expensive process in Utah for almost every estate. It could take a year or longer to complete and would require numerous court hearings. However, it is now possible to probate an estate without a hearing before a judge. This process is called informal probate and it is appropriate where all interested persons are in agreement. 

During probate, the court appoints a personal representative. The personal representative is generally a close family member or friend. The personal representative has many responsibilities and is in charge of administering the deceased’s estate. Their responsibilities include gathering assets, paying creditors and taxes, and distributing assets to heirs in accordance with state law. 

The role of personal representative comes with a lot of responsibilities. These responsibilities can be difficult to manage when you are also dealing with the loss of a loved one. If you have been appointed as a personal representative, you do not have to work alone. You can hire professionals such as attorneys and/or accountants to help with settling the estate. In many instances, an attorney may be necessary for some or all of the probate process.

Formal probate 

If the interested parties disagree regarding the appointment of the personal representative or over the distribution of assets, then formal probate may be necessary. Formal probate can be a lengthy and involved process. If there is any conflict in probate of a loved one’s estate, you should consult with an experienced probate attorney. They can advise you of your rights and responsibilities.

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Who Typically Inherits Assets in Utah If There Isn’t a Will?

One of the main duties of the personal representative is distributing assets to heirs. Heirs are those entitled to the property of a deceased.

In Utah, who typically inherits assets if there isn’t a will is determined by Utah’s intestacy laws? Inheritance usually depends on whether or not the deceased had a surviving spouse and/or any surviving descendants. Descendant means all of a person’s younger relatives of all generations with the relationship of parent and child. For example, the deceased’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Surviving spouse

In Utah, the deceased’s surviving spouse gets everything if either of the following are true:

  • No descendant of the deceased survived the deceased
  • All of the deceased’s surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse

Otherwise, the surviving spouse gets the first $75,000, plus one-half of any balance of the intestate estate. This happens if one or more of the deceased’s surviving descendants are not descendants of the surviving spouse.

For example, Ron and Julie are married and have two children together. However, Ron also has another child from a previous marriage. When Ron passes away, Julie will get the first $75,000 plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate. The three children will then split the remainder of the intestate estate in accordance with the section below. 

Other heirs

Anything that does not pass to the surviving spouse under the law discussed above, goes to the following surviving individuals in the following order:

  • The deceased’s descendants per capita at each generation (Per capita means the estate is split equally among heirs at each generation)
  • The surviving parent(s)
  • The parent’s descendants per capita at each generation
  • Grandparents or descendants of grandparents

Additional relatives down or up the line may be able to inherit, depending on who survives the deceased. If you have questions about potential heirs, you should speak with an experienced probate attorney who can guide you through the process.

Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in Utah

In life, and in death, it is impossible to prepare for every scenario. However, many of us will go through similar experiences such as the loss of a parent and even the loss of a spouse. Sometimes the most helpful tool to navigating these difficult experiences is open communication. Here, we will go over frequently asked questions about dying without a will in Utah. 

What happens when your parent dies without a will?

The death of a parent can be a difficult experience regardless of a person’s age. What happens when your parent dies without a will depends on a couple of factors that we have already discussed. Namely, whether your parent had a surviving spouse and whether or not they share all of their descendants. 

If all of your parent’s descendants are the descendants of their surviving spouse, then you would not be entitled to inherit anything. However, you may be entitled to a share of the estate based on the different scenarios discussed above. 

What happens may also vary based on whether or not your parent is survived by any minor children. The surviving spouse and/or minor children have certain entitlements that will be discussed in the probate exceptions section below. If you have concerns about what will happen when your parent dies, then now is the time to start that discussion

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What are a surviving spouse’s rights if there’s no will?

The surviving spouse has many rights if there is no will. However, these rights will be based on the factors discussed in the above section about who typically inherits if there is no will. In addition to those rights, a surviving spouse is also entitled to certain allowances and exempt property which will be discussed below.

If you have recently lost a spouse and are concerned about your rights, then you should contact a probate attorney immediately. Time is of the essence when dealing with estate matters. 

Are there any probate exemptions if you die without a will in Utah?

Probate exemptions are property not subject to the claims against the estate. Exemptions may also have priority over other claims. This means that the exemption would get paid out first from the estate. In Utah, there are a few exemptions that the surviving spouse and/or minor children may be entitled to.

Homestead allowance

In Utah, a surviving spouse is entitled to a homestead allowance of $22,500. If there is no surviving spouse, each minor child and each dependent child of the deceased is entitled to an equal division of the homestead allowance. 

Exempt property

In addition to the homestead allowance, the surviving spouse (or children if there is no surviving spouse) is entitled to property not exceeding $15,000 that includes the following:

  • Household furniture
  • Automobiles
  • Furnishings
  • Appliances
  • Personal effects

Family Allowance

In addition to the homestead allowance and exempt property, the surviving spouse and minor children are entitled to “a reasonable allowance in money out of the estate for their maintenance during the period of administration.”

If you are concerned about providing for your loved one’s after you are gone, a thorough estate plan can help alleviate those fears. You can use your estate plan to address your loved one’s needs as well as your own.

Who is considered next of kin in Utah?

Next of kin is a phrase that can have many different meanings. It is often used to refer to a person’s closest living relative. In estate matters, next of kin is generally used to refer to heirs, which means those persons entitled to inherit the property of the deceased under Utah’s intestacy laws. It includes all those persons mentioned in the earlier section discussing who typically inherits. 

Age Is Just a Number

Utah has the youngest population in the United States, with a median age of 31.3 years in 2019. However, age is just a number when it comes to end-of-life planning. It doesn’t matter if you just celebrated the big 30 or the big 80, you can always top off your birthday by updating your end-of-life plans.

Now is the time to get your affairs in order and keep them organized for your loved ones to access after you are gone. Don’t let another year pass you by, take a look around the Cake planning platform today to learn how it can meet your planning needs.

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