Families come in all shapes and sizes. Nearly every client that walks through my door has a story about how their family is made up that necessitates extra thought and attention.
That said, there is no way to outline intestate succession for every family's situation. What we can do is look at the general guidelines provided by Utah law.
Utah law provides that a surviving spouse can reasonably expect to receive all of her deceased spouse's intestate property if all surviving children belong to both spouses or if there are no children. But what about situations that go beyond these limited scenarios? Or situations where there is no surviving spouse?
Distributions Beyond a Spouse
Any intestate property that does not go to a surviving spouse will first pass to any of the deceased spouse's descendants, which includes grandchildren and beyond if a child of the decedent died prior to their parent.
If there are no descendants of the decedent, intestate property passes to the decedent's living parents in equal shares.
If the decedent's parents are not then living, the intestate property then passes to the decedent's siblings. The interesting thing to note here is that “siblings” in this context includes anyone that simply shares a parent with the decedent, which means that Utah law provides for half-siblings as if they were a full sibling for intestate distribution purposes.
If there are no siblings, the intestate property is split into two shares. One share is distributed to the decedent's paternal grandparents in equal shares. If the paternal grandparents have already died then their share passes to their descendants (the decedents aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). The other share is distributed to the decedent's maternal grandparents with the same distribution parameters. If there is no one to inherit on one side, then both shares will go to the other.
Utah law does not extend inheritance through great-grandparents. That would get messy.
Deceased Ex-Spouse's Descendants
In the rare situation where a decedent has no descendants, parents, siblings, or extended family, Utah law provides one last category for an individual to benefit from the intestate estate. If the decedent has a predeceased spouse – or predeceased spouses – then the intestate property is split amongst the descendants of the predeceased spouse(s).
Only after the aforementioned relatives have been exhausted does property pass to the State of Utah.
Family is fun. Family is hard. Consult with an attorney if you want a better idea as to how fun or hard distributions to your family would be if you were to bypass getting an estate plan.