What Happens If I Have No Will When I Die?

A person who dies without a Will valid in Washington State is said to be “intestate.”  The word “intestate” means “without a Will.”  Such a person’s property will, after her death, be distributed according to the intestacy statute (RCW 11.04.015).  The intestacy statute amounts to a one-size-fits-all default Will.  It distributes a decedent’s property in the manner the Washington legislature has guessed would conform to most people’s preferences.  Because of this legislative assumption, the distribution scheme of the intestacy statute may not fit your intentions well or may reflect them perfectly.

Washington’s intestacy statute splits an intestate decedent’s property between the decedent’s spouse and others, whom the statute specifies.

  • If a spouse survives, that spouse gets all community property of the marital community.
  • Additionally, the surviving spouse takes one-half of the decedent’s separate property, if the decedent had surviving children or their descendants.
  • If the decedent had no surviving children or descendants, the surviving spouse receives three-quarters of the decedent’s separate property, and his surviving parents take one-quarter of decedent’s separate assets.
  • If a spouse survives, and the decedent had neither surviving children nor surviving parents, the spouse takes all of decedent’s separate property.

If no spouse survives the decedent, or if there is a portion of the net estate to which a spouse is not entitled, this property will be distributed to:

  • Decedent’s children, including adoptees, by representation (which means in proportion to the degree of kinship to the decedent).
  • If none, then to decedent’s parents.
  • If none, then to decedent’s parent’s children (the decedent’s siblings and half-siblings) by representation (if applicable, decedent’s nieces and nephews).
  • If none, then to decedent’s grandparents, with equal shares to mother’s parents and father’s parents.
    If none, then to decedent’s grandparents’ descendants (decedent’s cousins) by representation.
  • If none, then to the State of Washington (RCW 11.08.140), which property is then said to “escheat to the State.”  This provision is not part of Washington’s intestacy statute, but forms an essential consideration in what happens to the property of a person with no Will upon death.