A person who dies without having a valid Last Will and Testament is said to be “intestate”. The money and property owned by a person dying intestate passes to their heirs at law under the laws of Intestate Succession. The statute in Washington law can be found at RCW 11.04.015.
The heirs of a married person with children who dies intestate are the spouse as to 100% of all of the married couple’s community property and 50% of the deceased person’s separate property, with the children of the deceased person receiving the other half of the separate property. If there are more than one child of the decedent, then the children divide the other half of the separate property equally amongst themselves.
If the decedent is not married at the time of death but is survived by one or more of his or her children, the children would receive the entire estate, divided equally amongst them. But if one or more sibling has predeceased the decedent but left children of their own, their children would stand in the shoes of their parent and divide amongst them their parent’s share of the intestate estate.
If the decedent is survived by a spouse but without children, if the decedent is survived by one or both of his or her parents, then the spouse would get 100% of the community property and ¾ (i.e. 75%) of the separate property and the parent(s) would receive the other ¼ (i.e. 25%) of the separate property. Even if the decedent has no children and his or her parents have also predeceased the decedent, the decedent’s brothers and sisters (if any) would receive the other ¼ of the separate property equally amongst them. Its only when the decedent dies with a surviving spouse but no surviving parents or brothers and sisters, then the spouse would take all of the community and all of the separate property of the decedent.
The law of intestate succession is designed to try to avoid the problem of escheat. Escheat happens when NO heirs of the decedent can be located and the estate of the deceased person goes to the State of Washington. Thus, aunts and uncles and cousins of a deceased person can inherit from a deceased person who dies intestate if no closer family member can be located. Intestacy is a situation to be avoided because of the rigid application of the law can lead to situations where distant family members who barely knew the decedent can inherit their entire Estate.
Thus, it is vitally important for every person who has any assets of any size – especially people who own real property – to have a properly drafted and executed Last Will and Testament made for them before they die. Newton Kight LLP has been providing valuable estate planning services to the people of Snohomish County at affordable rates for over 100 years and can help their clients draw up an estate plan that meets their needs.