Even when clients wish to avoid probate and have done everything in their power for nonprobate administration at death, a will is a good back-up plan to take care of whatever may have been overlooked. For example, unexpected death may give rise to a claim for wrongful death, and the proceeds of the litigation will necessarily pass through probate and be disposed of as the client's probate estate.
Each state government has adopted a structure to decide who will inherit the estate of someone who dies without a will. The law of "intestate succession," which varies slightly from state to state, directs the disposition of property for the decedent who failed to sign a valid will. Usually, spouses inherit all or most of the estate. If there is no surviving spouse, children and the descendants of deceased children usually inherit. The law of intestate succession will often provide for distribution to the nearest relatives, even though they may be as distant as fifth cousins.