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When a person passes away, their surviving relatives may not know how to begin the probate process for the estate left behind. While this may not be a well-known area of the law for some people, it is utilized in numerous cases in the country every day.

For example, in Utah, there were more than 11,200 probate cases filed between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. Over 10,600 of these were resolved through the disposition of estates in the wake of a person’s death. This shows how probate can become a matter of legal concern for many people in the state on an annual basis.

In this regard, this article aims to help people prepare for the probate process. It provides details related to the disposition of a late loved one’s estate and the requirements involved. It also identifies potential hurdles as well as resources that can help overcome them.

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in Utah?

When a person dies in Utah, their estate will be distributed according to their will through probate. A will is used to give their assets and property to their designated beneficiaries. It can also specify who will take care of their children after their death.

Probate officially starts when a person files a petition for it. This is done at the district court of the county where the decedent lived or where they owned property. The assigned custodian of the will must give the document to the one who seeks to probate it.

In Utah, an estate’s beneficiaries can choose to go through either informal or formal probate. Under informal probate, all parties agree with how the estate should be distributed and who is chosen as the representative. On the other hand, formal probate involves a hearing where the parties attempt to resolve disputes on these matters.

Under state law, a probate case may be filed within three years after a decedent’s death. Meanwhile, for informal probate proceedings, a petition may not be filed at least five days after the decedent’s passing. If a will is not probated within three years, the process of intestate succession will follow.

The probate process is completed once a decedent’s assets have been distributed and any outstanding debts or claims have been addressed. The average length of an informal probate case is one year. This is to give parties enough time to settle any issues or appeals that may arise. Formal probate cases can take longer due to the disputes involved.

To identify the potential requirements and legal hurdles involved in their case, beneficiaries in Utah can work with a probate attorney throughout the process.

Role of a Personal Representative

A personal representative, or executor, is the one who oversees the probate process. They are either assigned by a decedent in their will or appointed by the court. Those who wish to become a representative can file an application along with the decedent’s will and death certificate.

When choosing a representative, probate courts in Utah prioritize these individuals in descending order:

  • The person chosen by the decedent in their will.

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse (if they are a devisee).

  • The decedent’s other devisees.

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse (if they are not a devisee).

  • The decedent’s other heirs.

  • Any creditor (if 45 days have passed since the decedent’s death).

As part of their duties, a personal representative must manage and distribute the decedent’s estate in accordance with the latter’s will. They must record all of their assets, file tax returns, and pay off any outstanding debts. They are also tasked with informing the decedent’s beneficiaries and creditors of the proceedings.

A representative can notify the creditors either through mail or any other form of delivery. They may also publish a notice in the local newspaper. A creditor must then file a claim within 60 days if they were notified through mail or 90 days if through a newspaper notice, whichever is later.

After paying debts and claims, the representative must distribute the remainder of the decedent’s estate to their beneficiaries. Once this is done, they can file a petition to officially close the estate.

Probate and Non-Probate Assets

It should be noted that not all of a decedent’s estate needs to go through the probate process. Generally, probate assets include the following:

  • Real property owned solely by the decedent in name or as a tenant in common.

  • Personal property like household items.

  • Interests in partnerships, corporations, or limited liability companies.

  • Bank accounts registered solely under the decedent’s name.

On the other hand, non-probate assets include:

  • Any property held in trust, such as life insurance policies.

  • Accounts with a designated beneficiary.

  • Real property held through joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.

  • Bank or brokerage accounts that are transferred or paid to a beneficiary upon the decedent’s death.

Small Estate Affidavit

Utah allows beneficiaries to use a small estate affidavit to claim a decedent’s property. This acts as a quicker alternative to probate. However, this can only be used as an option if all of the following requirements are met:

  • The estate’s total value is less than $100,000.

  • The estate does not have any real property.

  • At least 30 days have passed since the decedent’s death.

  • No one has filed an application to become a personal representative yet.

Creating a Will in Utah

According to Utah law, any person who is at least 18 years old and mentally competent can create a will. In order to make it valid, it must be signed by the testator, or the one who made it. If a testator cannot sign the will on their own, they can authorize another individual to do so.

After a testator signs their will, the document must then be signed by two witnesses. This must be done within a reasonable time after they witness the testator sign the will or acknowledge the signature on it.

Utah allows testators to create holographic wills, which are handwritten instead of typewritten. Unlike an ordinary will, a holographic will does not require any witnesses. However, it is only declared valid if its signature and provisions are in the testator’s own handwriting.

If some parts of a holographic will are not handwritten by the testator, there must be evidence proving that the document was made in accordance with their wishes. The same provision applies to typewritten wills.

Revoking or Changing Wills

If a testator wishes to revoke their will or a specific provision in it, they can do so by creating another will that expressly states so. Similarly, they can destroy the document or have an individual do so on their behalf and in their presence. A will is also declared revoked if a subsequent one is not consistent with it.

If a subsequent will does not have a provision revoking a previous one, the complete disposition of the testator’s estate will still revoke the latter. This occurs if it is the testator’s intent all along.

On the other hand, a subsequent will is presumed to supplement a previous one if it cannot completely dispose of a testator’s estate. Likewise, it will only revoke a previous will if there is proof that this is the testator’s intention. In these scenarios, the principle of inconsistency between the two wills also applies.

Meanwhile, any testator who wishes to change a holographic will can either:

  • Write a new one.

  • Write a “codicil” stating which parts of the will should be retained or changed.

Choosing Witnesses

Any person in Utah who is deemed competent to become a legal witness can be chosen as a witness for a will. This means that an interested party — or someone who benefits from the will — can become a witness. Having an interested party become a witness does not invalidate the will or its provisions in any way.

Contesting a Will

During the course of probate, an interested party can choose to contest a decedent’s will by filing a petition with the probate court. If the petition is granted, the contestor must inform the executor and beneficiaries of the proceedings. The burden of proof in such a case falls upon the contestor.

A testator may add a provision in their will stipulating that those who contest it may forfeit their rights to inheritance. However, Utah law states that such provisions will not be enforced if there is enough legal basis to challenge the will. A person can contest a will on the following grounds:

  • The will or its creation did not adhere to state laws.

  • The testator lacked the mental capacity to create or acknowledge the will.

  • There was undue influence or fraud involved in the will’s creation.

If a contested will is deemed invalid by the court, the will that preceded the invalid one will be used for probate instead. If there is no such will, the case will proceed to intestate succession.

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Utah?

In Utah, courts follow the process of intestate succession if a person dies without a will. The same applies if a will is deemed invalid or is not probated within three years, as mentioned above. Because the laws surrounding intestate succession can be complex, a probate attorney’s knowledge and assistance can be useful to make the process less difficult.

Spousal Rights

The share a spouse gets from an intestate decedent’s estate depends on whether they have any children or other descendants or relatives. If a decedent had a spouse and no children, the spouse would inherit all of the decedent’s estate. The same applies if the decedent had children only with their spouse.

However, this changes if the decedent had any other children or descendants from a former spouse or a previous relationship. If such is the case, the surviving spouse will inherit the first $75,000 from the intestate property and one-half of the remaining balance. The rest will then go to the descendants.

It should be noted that if a spouse will share the estate with other beneficiaries, the value of any non-probate assets will be added to the intestate estate. If the spouse inherits these assets, their value will be deducted from their intestate share.

If the total value of these inherited assets exceeds the spouse’s share, they are not required to pay the excess amount. However, they will not receive any further inheritance.

Children’s Rights

If an intestate descendant in Utah only has surviving children, they will inherit the entirety of the estate. Their inheritance is affected by the same provision for non-probate assets that affects a surviving spouse’s share.

Utah also has specific provisions for other types of children, listed as follows:

Adopted children

Have the same rights to inheritance as biological children

Foster children and stepchildren

Will only receive shares if legally adopted

Children placed for adoption

Those adopted by another family will not receive shares; biological children adopted by a spouse will receive shares

Posthumous children

Will receive shares only if they survive for 120 hours after the decedent’s death

Children born outside of marriage

Will receive shares only if the decedent acknowledged their paternity or if it was established under state law


Will receive shares only if their parents (the decedent’s children) are also deceased

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

If an intestate decedent has no surviving spouses or descendants, their parents will inherit their estate equally. If only one parent is still alive, all of the estate goes to them.

In case there are no surviving parents, the decedent’s siblings will become the estate’s beneficiaries. These siblings’ descendants will inherit on their behalf if they are also deceased. Half-siblings have the same rights to inheritance as full ones.

If there are no siblings or descendants, the estate will pass instead to the decedent’s grandparents. The property will be divided equally between the paternal and maternal sides. If only one paternal or maternal grandparent is still alive, they will inherit the entire share from their side.

If both grandparents from one side are already deceased, their descendants will inherit on their behalf. Similarly, if only the paternal or maternal side has surviving descendants, the estate will be divided among them.

Lastly, if an intestate decedent is not survived by any of the aforementioned relatives, the estate will pass to their next closest kin. Beneficiaries must note that the provision for non-probate assets mentioned above will also apply to their inheritances.

Estates With No Heirs

If a person in Utah dies intestate without any relatives, their property will pass to the state through escheatment. If a potential heir appears, they can still claim a decedent’s unclaimed property, regardless of how much time has elapsed.

Unique Situations in Utah Inheritance Law


In addition to its rule for non-probate assets in intestate proceedings, Utah has a provision concerning advancements. Specifically, the value of a gift given to a beneficiary by a decedent during the latter’s lifetime will be deducted from the former’s share after the decedent’s death. However, this only applies if the decedent stipulated this deduction in their will or if the beneficiary acknowledged it in writing as an advancement.

The Slayer Statute

Another law that can affect inheritances in Utah is the slayer statute. This law states that if a decedent is killed by a beneficiary or heir, the latter will be stripped of their rights to inheritance. This applies in both testate and intestate proceedings. The process will commence as if the killer had died before the decedent.

For Nonresidents and Noncitizens

Through Section 111 of its intestate succession laws, Utah allows those who are not residents of the state to inherit the property of an intestate decedent. Noncitizens also enjoy the same rights to inheritance under this provision.

Does Utah Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

Utah does not have any laws that specifically impose inheritance or estate taxes when a person dies. However, the state abides by federal estate tax regulations, following the thresholds set annually by the IRS.

As of 2023, any Utah estate worth more than $12.92 million will be taxed by up to 40% of the excess value. In 2024, this threshold will increase to $13.61 million.

Similarly, Utah follows federal gift tax provisions due to its lack of gift tax laws. Like with federal estate taxes, it can reach up to 40% of any gift’s value that exceeds the federal threshold. The current limit is $17,000, and it will increase to $18,000 in 2024.

Legal Resources Related to Inheritance Law in Utah

Utah State Courts - Life Planning and Probate Resources

The Utah State Courts website has various probate and estate planning resources that locals can use to prepare for probate and intestate proceedings. These cover topics such as guardianship, powers of attorney, and advanced healthcare directives. The website also offers basic information concerning Medicare and Social Security programs.

Utah Legal Services

Utah Legal Services is a nonprofit law firm that caters to low-income residents throughout the state. Its team covers matters related to guardianships, conservatorships, and powers of attorney. In addition, it handles issues concerning Medicaid, Social Security, estate planning, and joint ownership. For additional queries, users can contact any of the firm’s offices using the contact information in its website’s directory.

Nonprofit Legal Services of Utah

Nonprofit Legal Services of Utah is another firm that provides free aid to low-income people who are involved in civil matters. Its staff can assist those who are dealing with problems related to probate administration and guardianships. It also offers assistance to those who wish to plan their estate or draft wills. The firm can be reached via telephone at (385) 419-4111 or through fax at (801) 401-3504.

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