Understanding Washington’s Intestate Succession Laws

Have you ever thought about what might happen to your assets if you don’t have a will? Life can be unpredictable, and sometimes we may pass away without leaving behind clear instructions for distributing our assets. That’s where Washington’s intestate succession comes into play.

Intestate succession may sound complicated. But it’s simply a legal term for what happens when someone dies without a will. Understanding how Washington intestate succession works is crucial for anyone who wants to ensure their assets are distributed according to their wishes.

Quick Summary:

  • Intestate succession in Washington refers to what happens when someone dies without leaving a will, leaving the state to decide how their assets are distributed.
  • Washington’s intestate succession laws focus on certain family members, such as surviving spouses and children, in determining asset distribution.
  • Children play a significant role in intestate succession, with specific rules applying to adopted, foster, and stepchildren.
  • Only assets that go through probate are affected by intestate succession laws, including real estate, personal property, financial accounts, and life insurance policies.

What is Intestacy?

Intestacy is a legal term that describes what happens when someone dies without leaving behind a will. A will allows a person to direct what happens to their property when they die. But with intestacy, the state decides who gets the property. So, the person who died doesn’t get to choose.

Dying without a will means the probate court determines who inherits your estate. Intestacy can be unpredictable and may not reflect your wishes.

What are the Intestate Succession Rules in Washington?

According to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) §11.04.015, intestate succession rules decide who gets what when there’s no will. By understanding these rules, you can ensure your property goes to the right people if something happens to you. These rules focus on certain family members based on their relationship to the deceased. Here’s an overview:

Surviving Spouse

According to Washington’s intestate succession law, when a spouse or domestic partner survives, they get:

  • All the deceased person’s share of the community estate
  • Half of the separate estate if the deceased has children or grandchildren
  • Three-quarters of the separate estate if there are no children, but there are surviving parents or siblings
  • All the deceased’s separate estate if there are no children, parents, or siblings left

This law ensures that a surviving spouse gets most of the deceased person’s property. However, if there are children, parents, or siblings left, they also get a small part of the deceased person’s separate property.

In states with community property laws, anything acquired during marriage is considered shared property. But things obtained before marriage or given as a gift or inheritance during marriage are seen as separate property.

In Washington, the intestacy rules treat the community and separate property differently. The surviving spouse gets all the shared property when their partner passes away.

If There Is No Surviving Spouse

When someone in Washington passes away without leaving a will and no surviving spouse, the state has specific rules to decide who gets their property. Here’s how it works:

  • Children: If the deceased person has children, they usually inherit everything. That includes children from the current marriage and children from previous relationships.
  • No Children, but Parents: If there are no children but the deceased person’s parents are still alive, the property might go to them.
  • No Children or Parents: If there are no children or parents, the property might go to the deceased person’s siblings or other relatives.
  • No Close Relatives: The property might go to the state if there are no surviving close relatives.

Special Rules For Children

Washington law prioritizes your children when you die intestate. The size of each child’s share depends on how many children you have and whether you are married. Below are some additional regulations on unique parent-child relationships:

  • Adoption: Adopted children receive the same share of the deceased parent’s estate as biological children. However, if parental rights are terminated, adopted children do not inherit from their biological parents.
  • Foster Children and Stepchildren: Children who have not been legally adopted, such as foster children and stepchildren, do not have a right to inherit from the deceased parent’s estate.
  • Paternity Issues: In cases where paternity needs to be established, children may need to prove paternity to receive a share of their deceased father’s estate. Children born outside of marriage are not automatically considered the child of their father. Paternity must be established separately.
  • Posthumously-Conceived Children: Children conceived after the parent’s death, such as through in vitro fertilization, do not have a right to inherit from the deceased parent’s estate.
  • Posthumously-Born Children: Children who were conceived before the parent’s death but born afterward are entitled to a share of the estate as biological children.

Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession?

Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:

  • Real Estate: Any property you own, like a house or land, may pass through intestate succession if there’s no will stating otherwise.
  • Personal Property: That includes things like furniture, cars, jewelry, and other items you own. Intestate succession determines who gets these belongings.
  • Financial Accounts: Bank accounts, investments, and retirement accounts may also be subject to intestate succession if there’s no designated beneficiary.
  • Life Insurance Policies: If there’s no named beneficiary on a life insurance policy, the proceeds may be distributed according to intestate succession laws.

How a Washington Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help With Intestate Succession

Navigating the laws around Washington’s intestate succession can be confusing, especially during a difficult time. That’s where our Washington estate planning lawyers at James A. Jones Attorney At Law can step in to provide guidance and support.

We will carefully evaluate your unique family situation to determine how intestate succession laws apply to you. Whether you’re a surviving spouse, child, parent, or other relative, we’ll explain your rights and entitlements under the law.

Our estate planning law firm can provide legal advice tailored to your circumstances. We’ll answer your questions and guide you through the process step by step.

Don’t let uncertainty hold you back. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and take the first step toward securing your future and protecting your rights.