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No Will? Part IV: Overview of Intestate Succession

debbieclark28 on FlickrThis blog series explores the problems and complexities that may occur when someone dies without a Will. Prior posts discussed the process for appointing an estate Administrator, the authority that an Administrator may or may not have, and whether the Administrator may be required by the court to furnish bond.  In this post, and in several subsequent posts to follow, I will explore the intricacies of intestate succession.

Intestate Succession

What is intestate succession?  The concept is simple, but determining how the assets are distributed in practice can be quite complex. When someone dies without a Will, the most fundamental issue is who will receive the assets? Obviously, the deceased person left no instructions, at least no legally binding instructions, regarding their wishes.  Some people mistakenly think their family will simply take care of it and do what’s fair.  But in reality, generally speaking, the family does not decide who receives the assets. The government does. More specifically, the Revised Code of Washington sets forth a requisite scheme for estate distribution, called “intestate succession,” which will govern how assets will be distributed absent a Will . This statute is set forth below:

RCW 11.04.015

Descent and distribution of real and personal estate.

The net estate of a person dying intestate, or that portion thereof with respect to which the person shall have died intestate, shall descend subject to the provisions of RCW 11.04.250 and 11.02.070, and shall be distributed as follows:

(1) Share of surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner. The surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner shall receive the following share:

(a) All of the decedent’s share of the net community estate; and

(b) One-half of the net separate estate if the intestate is survived by issue; or

(c) Three-quarters of the net separate estate if there is no surviving issue, but the intestate is survived by one or more of his or her parents, or by one or more of the issue of one or more of his or her parents; or

(d) All of the net separate estate, if there is no surviving issue nor parent nor issue of parent.

(2) Shares of others than surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner. The share of the net estate not distributable to the surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, or the entire net estate if there is no surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, shall descend and be distributed as follows:

(a) 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.

(b) If the intestate not be survived by issue, then to the parent or parents who survive the intestate.

(c) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, then to those issue of the parent or parents who survive 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.

(d) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, or by any issue of the parent or parents who survive the intestate, then to the grandparent or grandparents who survive the intestate; if both maternal and paternal grandparents survive the intestate, the maternal grandparent or grandparents shall take one-half and the paternal grandparent or grandparents shall take one-half.

(e) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, or by any issue of the parent or parents or by any grandparent or grandparents, then to those issue of any grandparent or grandparents who survive the intestate; taken as a group, the issue of the maternal grandparent or grandparents shall share equally with the issue of the paternal grandparent or grandparents, also taken as a group; within each such group, all members share equally if they are all in the same degree of kinship to the intestate, or, if some be of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree shall take by representation.

As you can see, this statute is fairly complex. How does it all work in practice? I will address this issue in subsequent posts, in order to shed some light on this frequently confusing topic.

Read the next post in the series here.

Photo credit: debbieclark28 on Flickr

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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