Review distribution priority order

Settle the Estate

Once final bills, debt, and taxes have been paid and the probate court approves a final accounting, the executor or administrator is ready to give remaining assets of the estate to the deceased’s surviving family, heirs, and beneficiaries.

If the deceased had a will, it will usually outline which heirs and beneficiaries are to receive which assets.

If the deceased did not have a will, or the will does not explain who is to receive all of the estate’s assets, state law will determine who is to receive which assets.

Specifically, the state laws of “intestate succession” will determine who is to receive the assets of the estate, and how much they are entitled to receive.

Personal Considerations


Did the deceased have a Will?


The executor or administrator should review the will for distribution instructions.

As long as the deceased’s will was valid and confirmed by the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived, the probate court will allow the deceased’s will to guide the distribution process.

Ordinarily, wills stipulate that named beneficiaries are to receive:

  • A percentage of the Estate (e.g. 25% to Jane and 75% to John)
  • Specific assets of the Estate (e.g. vehicle to John and furniture to Jane)
  • A combination of both specific assets and a percentage of the Estate (e.g. 25% to Jane, plus all furniture)

The executor or administrator will make distributions to the deceased’s heirs as defined by state law. If the deceased did not have a will, they are considered intestate - which simply means the deceased passed without having a will.

Each state has their own laws of “intestate” succession, which determines how much fo the deceased’s assets specific heirs are entitled to.

For example, let’s say Jane Doe was an Alaska resident.

Jane has a surviving husband, John, and one adult child with John.

After paying all debts of Jane’s estate, there are $100,000 in assets remaining to go to Jane’s Heirs.

Jane did not have a will, so Alaska’s rules of intestate succession will govern the distribution of Jane’s remaining assets.

According to Alaskan law, John will be entitled to the entire $100,000 of assets remaining, because Jane’s only surviving child is also a child of John.


If the deceased had a will:

The executor or administrator should review the will for distribution instructions.

As long as the deceased’s will was valid and confirmed by the probate court in the county and state where the deceased lived, the probate court will allow the deceased’s will to guide the distribution process.

Ordinarily, wills stipulate that named beneficiaries are to receive:

  • A percentage of the Estate (e.g. 25% to Jane and 75% to John)
  • Specific assets of the Estate (e.g. vehicle to John and furniture to Jane)
  • A combination of both specific assets and a percentage of the Estate (e.g. 25% to Jane, plus all furniture)
If the deceased did not have a wil:

The executor or administrator will make distributions to the deceased’s heirs as defined by state law. If the deceased did not have a will, they are considered intestate - which simply means the deceased passed without having a will.

Each state has their own laws of “intestate” succession, which determines how much fo the deceased’s assets specific heirs are entitled to.

For example, let’s say Jane Doe was an Alaska resident.

Jane has a surviving husband, John, and one adult child with John.

After paying all debts of Jane’s estate, there are $100,000 in assets remaining to go to Jane’s Heirs.

Jane did not have a will, so Alaska’s rules of intestate succession will govern the distribution of Jane’s remaining assets.

According to Alaskan law, John will be entitled to the entire $100,000 of assets remaining, because Jane’s only surviving child is also a child of John.


Were people left out of the will who should have been included?


If the petition for final distribution was filed and a hearing was already held, it is likely too late for the individuals left out of the will to make a claim against the estate.

They should contact an estate attorney if they still believe they are entitled to assets of the estate.

Depending on the laws of the state where the deceased lived, and the time that has passed since the legal probate process started, it may be too late for these individuals to make a claim against the estate.

In most states, there is a limited amount of time (typically less than a year) in which a potential heir can make a claim that they have been unintentionally left out of the deceased’s will.

If they do not make a claim within this timeframe, they miss their chance to dispute the deceased’s will.

Guides_Icon.svgFor more information about the timeframe for making claims against an Estate, review the sections, “Notify Persons of Interest” and “Notify Creditors.”

If the executor or administrator has already filed a petition for final distribution with the probate court, the individuals left out of the will may attend the hearing on the petition for final distribution to make a claim against the estate.

The probate court will then determine whether the individual’s claim against the estate will be recognized or not.

In other words, it will be up to the probate court whether any individuals left out of the will can receive any assets of the estate.

Guides_Icon.svgFor more information on the Petition for Final Distribution and its associated hearing, review the section, “Obtain Distribution Approval from Probate Court.”


The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should follow the distribution priority order defined by the laws of the state where the deceased lived.


If there are people left out of the will who should have been include:

If the petition for final distribution was filed and a hearing was already held, it is likely too late for the individuals left out of the will to make a claim against the estate.

They should contact an estate attorney if they still believe they are entitled to assets of the estate.

Depending on the laws of the state where the deceased lived, and the time that has passed since the legal probate process started, it may be too late for these individuals to make a claim against the estate.

In most states, there is a limited amount of time (typically less than a year) in which a potential heir can make a claim that they have been unintentionally left out of the deceased’s will.

If they do not make a claim within this timeframe, they miss their chance to dispute the deceased’s will.

Guides_Icon.svgFor more information about the timeframe for making claims against an Estate, review the sections, “Notify Persons of Interest” and “Notify Creditors.”

If the executor or administrator has already filed a petition for final distribution with the probate court, the individuals left out of the will may attend the hearing on the petition for final distribution to make a claim against the estate.

The probate court will then determine whether the individual’s claim against the estate will be recognized or not.

In other words, it will be up to the probate court whether any individuals left out of the will can receive any assets of the estate.

Guides_Icon.svgFor more information on the Petition for Final Distribution and its associated hearing, review the section, “Obtain Distribution Approval from Probate Court.”

If the will includes everyone who should be include:

The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should follow the distribution priority order defined by the laws of the state where the deceased lived.


Does the deceased have heirs?


The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should follow the distribution priority order defined by the laws of the state where the deceased lived.


The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should review state law to determine who inherits the deceased’s assets.

Typically, the law requires that the executor or administrator make every attempt to locate a living human being who can receive the estate.

However, if there is no living next of kin, as defined by state law, state law will specify a state agency that is to receive the estate’s assets.

For example, Jane Doe passed away as a resident of Utah.

If Jane’s executor is unable to find any living heirs or next of kin, Utah law stipulates that Jane’s estate be distributed to the Utah state school fund.


If the deceased has heir:

The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should follow the distribution priority order defined by the laws of the state where the deceased lived.

If the deceased does not have heir:

The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should review state law to determine who inherits the deceased’s assets.

Typically, the law requires that the executor or administrator make every attempt to locate a living human being who can receive the estate.

However, if there is no living next of kin, as defined by state law, state law will specify a state agency that is to receive the estate’s assets.

For example, Jane Doe passed away as a resident of Utah.

If Jane’s executor is unable to find any living heirs or next of kin, Utah law stipulates that Jane’s estate be distributed to the Utah state school fund.


Is there only a single heir to the estate?


They get the full remaining balance of the estate’s assets after all of the deceased’s debts and bills have been paid, unless the deceased’s will identifies other unrelated individuals who are to inherit the deceased’s assets (this is rare).

For example, Jane Doe’s estate assets total $25,000 after all of Jane’s debts have been paid by her executor.

Jane only has one surviving heir, a son, John.

John will receive the full $25,000 balance since he is the only surviving heir.


If there are no heirs

The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding the distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should review state law to determine who inherits the deceased’s assets.

The law requires that the executor or administrator make every attempt to locate a living human being who can receive the estate.

However, if there is no living next of kin, as defined by state law, state law will specify a state agency that is to receive the estate’s assets.

For example, Jane Doe passed away as a resident of Utah. If Jane’s executor is unable to find any living heirs or next of kin, Utah law stipulates that Jane’s estate be distributed to the Utah state school fund.

If there are multiple heirs

The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should review state laws of “intestate succession” to determine whom inherits the deceased’s assets.


If there is only a single heir to the estate:

They get the full remaining balance of the estate’s assets after all of the deceased’s debts and bills have been paid, unless the deceased’s will identifies other unrelated individuals who are to inherit the deceased’s assets (this is rare).

For example, Jane Doe’s estate assets total $25,000 after all of Jane’s debts have been paid by her executor.

Jane only has one surviving heir, a son, John.

John will receive the full $25,000 balance since he is the only surviving heir.

If there is more than one heir to the estate:

If there are no heirs

The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding the distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should review state law to determine who inherits the deceased’s assets.

The law requires that the executor or administrator make every attempt to locate a living human being who can receive the estate.

However, if there is no living next of kin, as defined by state law, state law will specify a state agency that is to receive the estate’s assets.

For example, Jane Doe passed away as a resident of Utah. If Jane’s executor is unable to find any living heirs or next of kin, Utah law stipulates that Jane’s estate be distributed to the Utah state school fund.

If there are multiple heirs

The executor or administrator should follow the instructions contained in the deceased’s will regarding distribution of assets.

If the will does not provide instructions for distribution, or if the deceased did not have a will, the executor or administrator should review state laws of “intestate succession” to determine whom inherits the deceased’s assets.

Actions to Take


State Distribution Priority Order

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State Intestacy Laws


Settle the Estate