What Is “Escheat”?

A decedent’s Washington property reverts (escheats) to the State of Washington, whether or not the decedent was a resident of Washington, if there exists no person who would otherwise take the property under the Washington intestacy statute (RCW 11.04.015).  In its essence, the escheat statute lays Washington’s claim to all property of decedents that does not belong to some other person by operation of Washington law.  If a person dies with such property in Washington, the Department of Revenue has the right to probate the estate, serve as its personal representative, and claim the property.  For a period of seven years after issuance of Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration (RCW 11.08.240), a person claiming the escheat property may make a claim to the property through the superior court in which the probate of the estate was originally filed.

In one low-frequency circumstance, escheat property is taken by persons not entitled to inheritance under the intestacy statute.  This outcome happens when step-children inherit from step-parents, under limited circumstances.  If a spouse dies, having children by a former marriage, and leaves property to his second spouse, who then herself dies without descendants, then the step-children take the step-parent's property inherited from their biological parent.  RCW 11.04.095.