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A Closer Look at Intestacy in Washington – Several Key Concepts of Intestacy and Why It is So Important to Understand

GEOFFREY GARRETT Washington Estate Planning Attorney

Choosing to create an estate plan in the state of Washington is deciding that you want to take control over some very important legal issues. Estate planning is all about preparing for what will happen should you become incapacitated, and what happens to the things you leave behind after you die. For example, what do you want to leave as inheritances to your family? Do you want to give to your church, your community, your alma mater, or to some charity? Do you want to provide an inheritance to your children or other family members but distributed in a way that you believe will allow them to be more responsible with it? When you create an estate plan you answer all of these questions and more. Unfortunately, not everyone has the foresight to make those choices by creating a plan. When such people die, the answers an estate plan would have provided are left unanswered. Nevertheless, someone will have to determine what happens to everything you leave behind. This is what intestacy is all about. To get a better idea of what intestacy is and why it’s so important to understand, were going to look at several key concepts.

CHOOSING TO MAKE A LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT You probably know that a last will and testament is a document through which you can state your inheritance choices. You can decide, for example, to leave a part of your estate to your children, your spouse, your siblings, charities, or to anyone else you choose. As long as you create a will so that it meets legal requirements, your inheritance decisions are entirely up to you to make. Apart from some limitations, you can choose to give your individual property to anyone you like. Byrd Garrett PLLC|Intestacy and Your Estate


Yet most people never get around to creating will. When these people die, the questions of inheritances must still be answered. States do this by adopting intestacy laws. When you die without a will, you die intestate. The property you leave behind has no will to determine who will become the new owner. Instead, the intestacy laws of the state of washington will make those determinations. It’s vital to understand that these laws exist in every state. All of them operate in a similar fashion, even though the particular details can differ. If you fail to make a last will and testament or otherwise create an estate plan that addresses inheritance issues, state intestacy laws will make your inheritance choices for you.

YOUR HEIRS Let’s assume that you don’t make an estate plan and never get around to creating a last will and testament. Under washington intestacy laws your heirs will be your closest family members to survive you. Depending on your circumstances this can be almost anyone from your spouse, to your children, or even more distant relatives. Let’s take a look at some possible scenarios. 

You die leaving behind no children, spouse, or any identifiable living relatives. In the worst-case scenario, in which you don’t have any relatives, your entire estate will be inherited by the state of washington. Though this only happens very rarely, it is a possibility, and will happen if no relatives survive you.

Byrd Garrett PLLC|Intestacy and Your Estate


You die leaving behind a spouse and a child. In this most common of situations, both your spouse and your child will be entitled to inherit property. Washington is what is known as a community property state. This means your spouse will be entitled to inherit certain property that you own during your marriage. Your spouse will receive half of what is known as separate property, and all of what is known as community property. Your child, on the other hand, will inherit the remaining half of the separate property.

You die leaving behind a spouse and surviving parents. You might be surprised to know that if you die leaving behind no children, but leave behind a spouse and parents, your parents will inherit some of your property. In this scenario, the surviving spouse will inherit all of the community property and three quarters of any separate property. Your parents will inherit the remainder of the separate property.

You die leaving behind brothers and sisters but no parents, spouse, or children. Because your siblings are the closest relatives to you, they will divide your property equally amongst themselves. So, if you have two sisters and a brother, each would inherit one-third of your estate.

CHOICES AND OPTIONS Although the scenarios we outlined above do not represent all possible inheritance situations, they give you a good example of how intestacy laws work. It’s important to point out that all intestacy laws distribute property to relatives and no one else. If, for example, you are a single person who has lived with the same partner for decades, your partner does not have any automatic inheritance rights under washington intestacy laws. The same goes for any charity, religious organization, educational institution, or any cause or organization you might want to support. Fortunately, you have the ability to change this. Even by creating a simple plan that only uses a last will and testament, you can make whatever inheritance choices you feel appropriate.

Byrd Garrett PLLC|Intestacy and Your Estate


Not only that, but if your situation should change later on or you should change your mind about the kinds of inheritance is you want to leave, you can update your will at any time. As long as you make sure that your will complies with all appropriate legal requirements, you can make any inheritance decisions you like. When you do, the intestacy laws of the state of Washington will play no part in determining how your property is distributed after your death. Of course, it goes without saying that in order to create a successful inheritance plan you will need to make sure you comply with the law. Talking to an experienced Washington estate planning attorney is the only way to be sure you create a proper plan.

Byrd Garrett PLLC|Intestacy and Your Estate


About the Author Geoffrey Garrett Geoffrey H. Garrett purchased assets of the law practice of Stanley R. Byrd in 2008. For more than twenty-seven years previously, he pursued two challenging careers simultaneously, as an attorney in an active sole practice and a senior pilot for a major airline, where he achieved the rank of B-747 captain in the international operation. He was honored as his airline’s 2005 captain of the year in Seattle. He has been a frequent speaker on the subject of reorganizing troubled airlines, has written significant papers about airline code sharing and fleet restructuring in bankruptcy, and is the co-author with Stanley R. Byrd of estate planning basics in Washington. Mr. Garrett advises in matters of estate planning and probate, trust administration, guardianship and planning for special needs, elder law and asset protection. He assists owners of small businesses with respect to entity formation, administration and compliance, purchase and sale of businesses and succession planning. Experience Mr. Garrett served as a C-141 pilot during Viet Nam and completed a twenty year military career in the Air Force reserve. Early in his legal career, Mr. Garrett was a commercial and bankruptcy trial lawyer. Since 1988, he has practiced exclusively in estate planning and related fields of law and in small business law. From 2002 until 2006, he served as vice-chairman of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors in the multi-billion dollar bankruptcy of United Airlines.

Byrd Garrett PLLC|Intestacy and Your Estate


Intestacy and Your Estate  

A closer look at intestacy in Washington - Several key concepts of intestacy and why it is so important to understand.

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