No Will? Part X: How Does Family Support Work?

By September 6, 2016 May 18th, 2020 No Comments

oatsy40 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, whether the Administrator may be required by the court to furnish bond, and an overview of intestate succession and inheritance laws that apply to people who die without Wills. In blog posts five through eight, I discussed the details of intestate succession in terms of the distribution to a surviving spouse, a registered domestic partner, or a live-in romantic partner, and what happens in relation to the rest of your family if you don’t have a Will. My last blog post provided a brief overview of the family support statutes.

How does family support work in practice? And how does it relate to intestate succession? Let me give you a hypothetical. Sally is a retired school teacher with assets equaling $100,000. Sally has a grown son, George, who is the CFO at, where he earns an annual salary of $1 million.  Sally met her future wife, Julie, at a restaurant. Julie worked as a waitress. Julie had about $15,000 in assets when she married Sally. Julie stopped waiting tables soon after the marriage occurred, and was in poor health. Julie’s only income consisted of an $800 monthly Social Security benefit. Two years after their wedding, Sally, tragically, died in an automobile accident. Sally did not have a Will. According to the laws of intestate succession, Julie will receive all of Sally’s share of the community property. Unfortunately, no community property exists. Neither spouse worked, and the couple had a short-term marriage. Washington law also provides that Julie would also receive one-half of Sally’s separate estate, since Sally was survived by George. So, pursuant to the laws of intestate succession, Julie would receive $50,000 from Sally’s estate and George would receive the other $50,000 (an amount equal to 5% of George’s annual compensation).

This distribution does not seem fair. Julie is in desperate need of the money to cover her basic living expenses, while George is planning to use his $50,000 distribution as a down payment on his second Bentley. So what can be done here? Julie, as the surviving spouse, can file a petition for family support requesting that the basic award be modified so she can receive Sally’s entire $100,000 estate. As stated in my prior blog post:

RCW 11.54.040 sets forth a number of factors that may result in an increase in the basic award. Specifically, the court may increase the award:

If it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court with clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that a claimant’s present and reasonably anticipated future needs during the pendency of any probate proceedings in the state of Washington with respect to basic maintenance and support will not otherwise be provided for from other resources, and that the award would not be inconsistent with the decedent’s intentions, the amount of the award may be increased in an amount the court determines to be appropriate.

In this instance, Julie’s attorney will seek to demonstrate to the court that Julie has no other resources to rely upon and that this distribution would not be inconsistent with Sally’s intentions. The result of Julie’s petition for family support is not guaranteed. This situation will likely create much financial and emotional stress for Julie, and could have been prevented if Sally and Julie had retained an attorney to prepare their Wills after they were wed.

Read the next port in the series here.

Photo credit: oatsy40 on Flickr

Read the next blog post in the series here.

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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