If you have a created a will but no other estate planning documents, your will is going to require a probate. A judge will need to validate your will, assign someone to manage your estate, choose someone to become guardian for your minor children, and distribute your assets. This process will make your estate public, open your will up to any concerned party who wishes to contest it, and will cost your family time and money.
If you have not created an estate plan or a will, you will be considered to have died intestate. When this happens, each state has intestacy laws that will determine how your property is distributed. Your estate includes all your bank accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, and any other assets you own at the time of your death. Real estate that was owned in a state other than the one where you resided will be handled according to the intestacy laws of the particular state where the property is located, not the laws of your home state.
The laws of intestate succession are based upon whether you were single or married when you died and whether or not you had children. The court will decide your heirs, which may include your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your aunts and uncles, your nieces and nephews, and even your distant relatives. If no relatives can be found by the court, your entire estate goes to the state you live in.
If you are single with no children, your parents will receive your estate, if they are living. If you are single but you have children, your entire estate will go to your children and will be distributed in equal shares. If you are married, depending on how your assets are owned at the time of your death, your estate will either go to your surviving spouse, if it is community property, or it will be split between your spouse, your siblings, and parents, if it is separate property.