Skip to content

What Happens When You Die Without a Will? A Guide to Understanding Massachusetts Intestate Succession Laws

What Happens When You Die Without a Will? A Guide to Understanding Massachusetts Intestate Succession Laws

Losing a loved one is a difficult and emotional experience, and dealing with the legal complexities of their estate can add additional stress and uncertainty. If a loved one passed away without a valid Will, they are said to have died "intestate," and their estate must be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession. In Massachusetts, these laws determine how a deceased person's assets will be distributed among their heirs at law. Let's explore what happens when you die without a Will in and how intestate succession works in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


Intestate Succession Laws in Massachusetts:

When an individual dies without a Will, their assets will be distributed according to Massachusetts intestate laws. The statute that governs Massachusetts intestacy can be found primarily in Mass. General Laws c.190B Article II § 2-102 and § 2-103. These sections outline different scenarios that can play out depending on whether the decedent was survived by a surviving spouse, children, parents, or other close relatives. The intestacy laws regarding the distribution of assets is based solely on the decedent’s lineal descendants. It has nothing to do with the decedent’s wishes which is why creating an all-encompassing estate plan is paramount to ensuring your wishes come to fruition after you die. For more information about creating a Will or Trust, please read our full guide here or call our office today at (781) 848-0040.


Distribution of Assets:

The table below provides a breakdown of the Massachusetts intestacy statutes and what would result based on which family members are still living following the death of the decedent.

If You Die With:

Who Gets What?

 A spouse but no surviving descendants or parents

 Your spouse gets 100%

Children but no surviving spouse

Your children inherit 100% (Split evenly amongst all children).

If your children are minors, their shares will be held in trust until they reach the age of 18.

A spouse and surviving descendants, where all of the surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse (and the surviving spouse has no other descendants)

Your spouse gets 100%

A spouse and surviving parents, but no descendants

Your spouse inherits the first $200,000 of the intestate property, plus 3/4 of the estate balance

Your surviving parents inherit the remaining 1/4

A spouse and surviving descendants, but your spouse also has descendants from another relationship (often children from your spouse’s previous marriage)

Your spouse inherits the first $100,000, plus 1/2 of the estate balance

The surviving descendants inherit the remaining 1/2 of the estate balance, split evenly amongst them

A spouse and surviving descendants, but the surviving descendants are not your spouse’s descendants (often children from your previous marriage)

The spouse inherits the first $100,000 of the intestate property, plus 1/2 of the estate balance

The surviving descendants inherit the remaining 1/2 of the estate balance, split evenly amongst them

Parents but no spouse or descendants

Your parents get 100%

Siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents

Your siblings get 100% (split evenly amongst them)

Massachusetts Intestacy Laws in Action

The succession laws can be better illustrated using a few examples:

  1. Robert and John are married and they have no children. Robert’s father is still alive and lives alone. Robert and John own their primary residence as tenants by the entirety (read here for more information about the different ways to hold title in Massachusetts). Robert has an individual checking and savings account, both of which have pay-on-death designations naming John as beneficiary. Robert sadly dies without a Will. When he does, John automatically inherits the house (due to the right of survivorship that comes with a tenancy by the entirety) along with the amounts in the checking and savings accounts due to the pay-on death designations. However, Robert, also had $600,000 worth of property owned under his name only, that otherwise would have passed under a Will had he made one.
    1. As a result, Robert's Spouse, John, will inherit $500,000 (the first $200,000 plus ¾ of the remaining $400,000 estate balance or $300,000);
    2. The remaining $100,000 will be left to Robert’s surviving father.
  2. Michael and Susan are married, and they have three adult children together. Susan also has an adult son from a previous marriage. Michael and Susan hold a joint savings account together. When Michael dies, Susan will receive the savings account outright. Michael also had $700,000 of other assets that were owned under his individual name. These assets would pass through intestate succession. The result is:
    1. Susan will inherit $400,000 (the first $100,000 plus ½ of the remaining $600,000 estate balance or $300,000);
    2. The remaining $300,000 will be split between Michael and Susan’s three adult children, with each child receiving $100,000;
    3. Susan's son from her previous marriage receives nothing.
  3. Roger and Karen are married. They have no children together, but Roger has a minor daughter from a previous marriage. Roger and Karen own a home together as tenants by the entirety. Roger has a 401k and IRA that both have Karen named as the beneficiary. Roger passes away, and Karen automatically receives the home and the proceeds of the retirement accounts. Michael also had $300,000 in additional assets. These assets would be distributed through intestate succession as follows:
    1. Karen inherits $200,000 (the first $100,000 plus ½ of the remaining $200,000 estate balance or $100,000);
    2. Roger’s minor daughter will inherit the remaining $100,000 which will be held in trust until she reaches the age of majority, or 18 years of age in Massachusetts.


Understanding the laws of intestate succession in Massachusetts is essential for individuals and families facing the complexities of estate distribution without a valid Will to refer to. Our Attorneys at Lane, Lane, & Kelly have decades of experience guiding families through the Massachusetts probate process. Navigating this intestate succession process can be overwhelming, especially during a time of grief. Consulting with a knowledgeable probate attorney is highly recommended to ensure that the decedent’s estate is handled appropriately and in accordance with Massachusetts state law.

At Lane, Lane & Kelly, we are dedicated to helping families navigate the complexities of estate planning and probate law. If you have questions about intestate succession or need assistance with estate administration in Massachusetts, please do not hesitate to contact us or setup an appointment at our office located at 836 Washington St. Braintree, Massachusetts 02184. Our experienced Attorneys are here to provide compassionate support and expert legal advice during a very difficult time for families.



This blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By reading this blog you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and Lane, Lane & Kelly, LLP.