Dying Without a Will in Arkansas

What happens if you die without a Will? What is the law of intestate succession? How does this affect Arkansas residents?

These are all popular questions in the world of estate planning.  The answers may be found in several Arkansas statutes which are discussed in a very general terms within this article.  For a full understanding of applicable law, see the notation at the end of this article.  Arkansas law provides a procedure for “intestate succession” which is followed when you die without a Will (known as “dying intestate”). There are other times that intestate succession may apply, such as when someone has a Will that is not properly submitted to probate, or when property is not adequately addressed in an otherwise valid Will. These are rare situations, however, and for the most part intestacy is only an issue when someone dies without a Will.

So, again, what happens if you die without a Will?  Your heirs can still proceed with probate, but the law of intestacy will direct the distribution of your assets (instead of your Will). As a preliminary matter, there are several statutory exemptions which must be addressed before your property will be distributed to anyone.  The Court will first address (1) the dower or curtesy of your surviving spouse (these are generally known as “marital rights”, and will be discussed in future blog articles); (2) the homestead right of your surviving spouse; and (3) additional statutory rights and allowances to the surviving spouse and minor children. 

After allowing for these exemptions, the remainder of your property will be distributed in the order prescribed by the Arkansas statute:

  • First, to your children (or, if one of your children died before you, then to their children).
  • Second, to your surviving spouse (unless you were married for less than three years, in which case the spouse receives only fifty percent of the estate).
  • Third, to your parents.
  • Fourth, the rest of your estate will pass to your surviving spouse, even if you have been married less than three years.
  • Fifth, to your surviving brothers and sisters.
  • Sixth, to your grandparents, uncles and aunts.
  • Seventh, to your great-grandparents and great-uncles and great-aunts.
  • Eighth, to the county where you resided at the time of death.

There are multiple additional complexities which arise when you die without a Will.  Who will be responsible for initiating the intestacy process for you? How will they be paid? Will they need to file a bond with the Court? (the Answer is “yes”)  How will they know where your assets are located, and the value of your assets?   How will they know where to find all of your aunts, uncles, etc. as necessary under the intestacy law?  Who will be the guardian of your minor children, and who will handle their assets until they reach a responsible age (and who will decide the proper age for your children)?

All of these problems are avoided by a simple Will, which will provide peace of mind and provide for a clear execution of all of your wishes upon death.

This article, as well as all other content contained on this Blog, should not be considered a substitute for legal advice. Please contact our office or the probate attorney of your choice for additional details concerning your Estate. The full text of the Arkansas Intestacy Law is provided on our Estate Law Page