Dying Without a Will in Kentucky

by Holly Cameron
Dying without a will in Kentucky may require the involvement of an attorney.

Dying without a will in Kentucky may require the involvement of an attorney.

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If a person dies without a valid will, the law describes it as dying “intestate.” In this situation, the laws of the state where he lived dictate the allocation of his estate. In Kentucky, Chapters 391 and 392 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes set out the law relating to distribution of assets when an individual dies without a will. Kentucky operates a complex system of dower and succession laws to provide for the surviving spouse and other relatives of the deceased, known as the decedent.

Surviving Spouse

Kentucky’s dower laws protect the interests of the decedent's spouse. Chapter 392 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes state that any surviving spouse of the deceased has a right to half the deceased’s estate, after payment of all debts; this is regardless of whether the decedent had a will. These dower laws apply equally to the husband or wife of the decedent. After payment of this one-half portion, the remainder of the estate passes to the relatives of the decedent in a prescribed order. A married couple may, if they choose, enter into a prenuptial agreement that expressly excludes dower rights for either or both.

Real Estate

Real estate comprises land and anything attached to the land, including a house -- but not its contents. According to Chapter 391.010 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, real estate passes -- after payment of dower rights -- in the first instance to the deceased’s children, or in turn, to their children. If there are no surviving children, the law states that the real estate must be divided between the deceased’s parents, if still alive. If only one parent is alive, he is entitled to the full portion of the remaining estate. If the decedent has no parents and no children, the estate passes to his brothers and sisters. If he has no children, parents or siblings, the estate goes to his surviving spouse.

Personal Estate

A personal estate consists of any property that is not real estate and usually includes money in bank accounts, personal possessions such as cars or jewelry and any insurance policies, stocks or shares. Personal estate of the estate passes in the same order as real estate, once all funeral expenses and other debts have been settled.

Inheritance Tax

Kentucky levies inheritance tax on the value of any property inherited from a deceased person. The amount of the tax varies depending on the relationship of the deceased to the beneficiary. The law exempts the surviving spouse, children, parents, grandchildren and siblings of the deceased from paying inheritance tax.