in·​tes·​tate | \ in-ˈte-ˌstāt How to pronounce intestate (audio) , -stət\

Definition of intestate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : having made no valid will died intestate
2 : not disposed of by will an intestate estate



Definition of intestate (Entry 2 of 2)

: one who dies intestate

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Did You Know?


Intestate was borrowed into English in the 14th century from Latin intestatus, which was itself formed by combining the prefix in- ("not") and the adjective testatus, meaning "having left a valid will." Testatus, in turn, derives from the past participle of the verb testari, meaning "to make a will." Approximately a century later, English speakers returned to testatus to coin the word testate, which also means "having left a valid will." Other descendants of testari in English include detest, protest, and testament, as well as testator ("a person who dies leaving a will or testament in force"). The antonym of testator is the noun intestate, meaning "one who dies without a will."

Examples of intestate in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The laws of intestate succession typically put any children first in line, followed by parents. Liz Weston,, "Procrastination can mean estate-planning disaster," 1 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

As the crowd from beneath the intestate cleared out, a young woman arrived at the scene, sobbing and screaming. Marie Simoneaux,, "Man dies in Mother's Day shooting in Gentilly: NOPD," 13 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'intestate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of intestate


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1658, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for intestate


Middle English, from Latin intestatus, from in- + testatus testate

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Last Updated

12 Sep 2019

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The first known use of intestate was in the 14th century

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Financial Definition of intestate

What It Is

Intestate means dying without a will.

How It Works

For example, let’s assume that John Doe dies without a will. He has a sister and a brother, but no wife or children.

Because John died intestate, the estate goes to probate court, as do many estates large and small. In this case, a judge has to allow the transfer of John's money and property to the sister and brother. This procedure (probate) opens the door for relatives or third parties to contest the judge's decision or to offer interpretations (or misinterpretations) of John Doe’s last wishes, both of which can tie up an estate in court for years.

Why It Matters

Dying without a will means allowing the state to decide how to distribute your assets after you die. Generally, a court-appointed executor, who may or may not have known you, will make the distributions. Many states have laws regarding the distribution of assets of people who die intestate. Often, these laws state that spouses inherit the entire estate, though some will cap the value and give excesses to children or other parties.

Many people think they don't need to do any sort of estate planning, and they think that the existence of a simple will does the job. However, wills are simply legal documents that express the decedent's intentions for burial and to whom he or she wishes to pass money and property (the estate) when he or she dies. In many cases, wills must also go through the probate process.

Establishing a trust often aids greatly in this situation because it allows a person to transfer legal title of his or her property to another person while they're still alive, potentially saving thousands in probate fees (and taxes). A trust also gives the trustee (the person acting on behalf of the decedent) the authority to distribute assets immediately to the beneficiaries based on the terms of the trust. No court is involved, so there are no probate fees and no public record of the value of the estate. Trusts are not for everyone, however, so it is important to seek proper financial advice.

Source: Investing Answers



English Language Learners Definition of intestate

law : not having made a will


in·​tes·​tate | \ in-ˈtes-ˌtāt How to pronounce intestate (audio) \

Legal Definition of intestate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : having not made a valid will died intestate
2 : not disposed of by a valid will intestate property an intestate estate specifically : transmitted according to statutory rules governing intestate succession
3 : of or relating to intestate succession intestate laws



Legal Definition of intestate (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who dies intestate

History and Etymology for intestate


Latin intestatus, from in- not + testatus testate

More from Merriam-Webster on intestate

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with intestate

Spanish Central: Translation of intestate

Nglish: Translation of intestate for Spanish Speakers

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