Understanding Intestacy Rules of Descent and Distribution

For estate-planning purposes, it is wise to enact a will designating what happens to your property when you die. If you neglect (or choose not) to do so, the law dictates what happens to your real and personal estate after your death.

 Understanding Intestacy Rules of Descent and DistributionThis affects both Illinois residents and nonresidents who own property located in the state. If no will is in place, first all just claims against the estate must be paid. Once these obligations are met, the estate is divided as follows:

  1. If there is a surviving spouse and a descendant of the decedent, one-half of the estate goes to the spouse and one-half goes to the descendants in equal shares.
  2. If there is no surviving spouse, the entire estate goes to the descendants in equal shares.
  3. If there are no descendants, the entire estate goes to the surviving spouse.
  4. If there is no surviving spouse or descendants, the estate goes to the parents, siblings or descendants of the siblings in equal shares.
    • If one parent is dead, the surviving parent receives a double share.
    • If a sibling is dead, that sibling’s descendants receive the sibling’s portion in equal shares.
  5. If there is no spouse, descendant, parent, sibling or any descendants of a sibling, the grandparents and the grandparents’ descendants are next in line.
    • The surviving maternal and paternal grandparents receive one-half of the estate, or their descendants receive in equal shares.
    • If there is no surviving maternal grandparent or descendant, the entire estate goes to the paternal grandparents or their descendants in equal shares.
    • If there is no surviving paternal grandparent or descendant, the entire estate goes to the maternal grandparents or their descendants in equal shares.
  6. If there is no spouse, descendant, parent, sibling, descendant of a sibling, grandparent or descendant of a grandparent, the estate falls to the great-grandparents and their descendants.
    •  The surviving maternal and paternal great-grandparents receive one-half of the estate, or their descendants receive in equal shares.
    • If there is no surviving maternal great-grandparent or descendant, the entire estate goes to the paternal great-grandparents or their descendants in equal shares.
    • If there is no surviving paternal great-grandparent or descendant, the entire estate goes to the maternal great-grandparents or their descendants in equal shares.
  7. If options one through six are not available, the estate then passes to the nearest kin of the decedent in equal shares. The law does not distinguish between full-blood relatives and half-blood relatives.
  8. In cases where a decedent has no living relatives, his or her real and personal estate escheats to the county in which it is located. This means that the county now owns the property.

Note that the law considers an adopted child a descendant of the adopting parent for inheritance purposes. Illinois law also makes special consideration of children born out of wedlock. For more information about these classes of descendants, see the Descent and Distribution statute. If you want to discuss the benefits of leaving behind a will, or if you have other estate-planning questions, contact our experienced Illinois family law attorneys today.