What happens when you die without a will in Washington State?
In basic terms, instead of your last will specifying how your estate is to be handled, Washington State law determines what happens to your property. Additionally, a court will decide who will act as the guardian of your minor children in the absence of specific directions usually found in a will. To illustrate how the courts will handle your estate under Washington law if you die without a will (“intestate”), I have provided a “Intestate Will” below. The “intestate will” is essentially a substitute where there is no other will for a Washington resident.
Washington State is a community property state, so as an initial matter, the deceased’s estate must be segregated into what is community property and what is separate property. As a general rule, separate property is all property acquired prior to marriage (as well as any individual gifts or inheritances received during marriage and anything purchased during marriage with separate property) and community property is all property acquired during marriage. Agreements between spouses can alter this general rule (pre-nup, post-nup, community property agreement). Keep in mind these are very generic statements of the community property scheme in Washington State and not the hard and fast rules for determining if property is separate or community. There are numerous other factors beyond the scope of this article to take into account to determine if specific property is separate or community.
The “intestate will” provided below is a general interpretation of the Washington State rules regarding intestacy. There are numerous exceptions and different applications under the law depending on certain circumstances. Generally wherever the term “spouse” is used below, such provisions shall also apply to state registered domestic partners. The “intestate will” below is provided merely as a summary of what generally happens if a Washington resident dies without a will under Washington law – it is not actually a will. Please do not use it as a form of a basic will! I encourage you to discuss any questions concerning the following or related to estate planning with an attorney.
The Washington State “Intestate Will”
All community property shall pass outright to my surviving spouse. If my spouse predeceases me then all of my property shall be treated as separate property.
If my spouse survives me:
- My separate property shall pass one-half (1/2) to my surviving spouse and one-half (1/2) to my issue (children and/or grandchildren);
- If I am not survived by any issue, then my separate property shall pass three-quarters (3/4) to my surviving spouse and one-quarter (1/4) to my parents if they survive me otherwise their one-quarter share shall pass to my siblings (or their issue) who survive me.
If my spouse does not survive me:
- My separate property shall pass entirely to my issue (children and/or grandchildren);
- If I am not survived by any issue, then my separate property shall pass entirely to my parents if they survive me, otherwise to my siblings (or their issue) who survive me.
- If neither of my parents or their issue survive me, then my separate property shall pass entirely to my grandparents who survive me otherwise to the issue of my grandparents (any descendants of my grandparents).
- If no one takes under the provisions above, I give all of my property to the State of Washington.
Any descendant of mine who would take under the Second Section above who is only a half-blood relative shall take as if they were a full-blood relative. Any stepchild or foster child of mine shall have no rights to inheritance under the Second Section above.
Any wishes I may have expressed orally to my spouse, children or others regarding the disposition of my property or handling of my estate is rendered null and void. I hereby disinherit any charities, friends or others that I might otherwise have wished to receive a portion of my estate as only my family members as specified in the Second Section shall inherit.
The administrator of my estate responsible for settling my affairs as soon as possible without loss shall be the following person (in order of priority) provided they are of sound minor and otherwise not disqualified from performing as a fiduciary:
- My surviving spouse;
- The next of kin – in this order: children, parents, siblings, grandchildren, nieces or nephews;
- A trustee, guardian or attorney-in-fact named by me during my lifetime;
- Any beneficiary of my assets;
- A principal creditor of mine;
- Any other court-appointed person.
Such administrator shall post appropriate bond as determined by the court, unless they are my spouse or the court waives bond.
If my spouse does not survive me, then the court shall appoint a guardian for my minor children. Anyone may serve as guardian of my minor children who is determined by the court to be suitable, of sound mind and who has not been convicted of a felony (or misdemeanor of moral turpitude). When my children turn 18, they shall be entitled to the full amount of their inheritance immediately and without any limitations on its use.
All property given by me to my spouse under this will shall be theirs to dispose of as they wish during their life and upon their death. They shall be under no legal obligation to give any amount to my children and should they choose to give it all to a subsequent spouse, charity, friends or otherwise, there is nothing my children can do.