What Happens If I Die Without a Will?

We’ve all seen shows or movies with a dramatic reading of the Will where the family gathers around and are shocked to find out that someone has been disinherited. When someone who has executed a Will passes away, their assets are distributed as dictated in their Will. The Will could leave everything to Neighbor Bob, completely disinheriting the Signer’s ten children and seventeen grandchildren, and be perfectly valid – assuming, of course, that Neighbor Bob didn’t force the Signer to execute the Will. If a Will is in place all bets are off on who gets what, but what happens when someone dies without a Will?

In the State of Washington someone who passes away without a Will is said to have “died intestate.” An intestate estate will be distributed per the laws of intestacy, which are set out in RCW 11.04.015. These are the “default rules” for administration of an estate when the decedent did not have a valid Will in place.

In the event that the decedent is survived by a spouse or state registered domestic partner, the spouse or partner is entitled to all community property and at least half of the decedent’s separate property. If the decedent is not survived by a spouse or partner, RCW 11.04.015 states that their estate would pass “To the issue of the intestate; if they are all in the same degree of kinship to the intestate, they shall take equally, or if of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree shall take by representation.” In normal terms that means that the decedent’s children would each get an equal share of the estate, but if one child is deceased then their share would pass to their children, the decedent’s grandchildren. As an example, Adam had three children when he passed away, Betty, Carol, and David. David had two sons, Eli and Frank that died before Adam. Betty and Carol would each get one-third of Adam’s estate, and Eli and Frank would share David’s third, meaning each boy would receive one-sixth of Adam’s estate.

If the deceased individual is not survived by a spouse or any descendants, the estate would pass to the decedent’s parents. If the decedent’s parents have passed away before them, then it would pass to the decedent’s siblings and/or nieces and nephews, following the same pattern of representation as the Adam example above. Finally, in the event that Adam had no spouse, no descendants, no living parents, no siblings, and no nieces or nephews, his estate would pass to his grandparents or “to those issue of any grandparent or grandparents who survive the intestate.” Once again this follows the pattern of representation, though this time on a much broader scale as it includes the descendants of both paternal and maternal grandparents. As you can see determining a decedent’s intestate heirs can be a tricky process and since intestate heirs are entitled to notice of a probate proceeding, I recommend consulting with an attorney to ensure no one is forgotten.  

To learn more about What Happens If I Die Without a Will?, please contact Beresford Booth at info@beresfordlaw.com or by phone at (425) 776-4100.

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