The process of estate planning is, most simply, a way of setting your inheritance choices down in a legally recognized format. Your choices about who you want to inherit your property after you die must be made in some format which the laws of your state specifically allow for. However, because many, if not most, people never really get around to making an estate plan, states also have laws which apply as a safety net.
When you die without an estate plan, the laws of intestate succession direct how your property passes to new owners. All states have these laws, and though they differ, they essentially state that your closest living relatives will inherit your property. Usually your property will go to your spouse, children or even parents or siblings, but more distant relatives can also stand to inherit it if no one closer survives you.
Unfortunately, if you don’t have any living relatives around who survive you, intestacy laws direct that your property will be inherited by the state. This is known as escheat, but because most people die and leave behind at least one relative who survives them, it rarely happens. Escheat is possible, but it only happens in very limited situations, and most people never have to worry about it. Also, if you make the choice to create even the simplest of estate plans, you’ll be able to avoid the possibility entirely.