The Inheritance Statute in Washington, DC

By David Carnes

Washington, D.C. has enacted the Uniform Probate Code, a law drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws that is designed to harmonize the probate laws of the various states. The Uniform Probate Code governs the distribution of inheritances bequeathed by people who resided in the District of Columbia when they died.


A last will and testament is a legal document that directs the probate court and the executor, who is named in the will, how to distribute estate assets. The person who makes the will, known as the testator, must be at least 18 years old and must understand the contents of the will and its legal significance. The testator must sign and date the will in the presence of two witnesses, both of whom must be mentally competent and at least 18 years old.

The Probate Estate

The probate estate consists of all of the testator's property including real estate, personal property, bank accounts and intangible property such as copyrights. The executor is responsible for paying estate creditors and distributing the remainder of the estate to heirs. All estate debts must be paid before any property can be distributed to heirs, even if this results in estate heirs receiving less than the amounts specified in the will.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Probate Proceedings

Probate proceedings begin when someone submits the will and the testator's death certificate to the probate court. The court then schedules the first probate hearing. At the first hearing, the probate judge appoints the executor named in the will, or an estate administrator if no executor is named, or if the named executor is unable to act as executor. The judge then determines whether probate is to be supervised or unsupervised. Large or complex estates are more likely to be supervised. If probate is supervised, the executor must file reports with the court to list the assets of the estate and report his administration of estate property. The court may hold additional hearings if anyone disputes the validity of the will or makes civil claims against the estate. The executor must distribute a living allowance to the testator's minor children and surviving spouse during the probate process. He also pays estate creditors, files any estate tax returns that come due, and distributes assets to the testator's heirs from whatever assets remain in the estate after creditors have been paid.

Intestate Succession

If there is no will, or if the testator's will is declared invalid, the probate court orders the executor to distribute estate assets in accordance with the District of Columbia's intestate succession rules. These rules award the largest share of the estate to the testator's surviving spouse or domestic partner -- if any -- and progressively smaller shares to the testator's descendants depending on how closely related they are to the testator. If a descendant or a parent does not survive the testator, the spouse receives 100 percent of the estate.


Assets deposited in a living trust by the testator before his death are not subject to probate jurisdiction; instead, the trust administrator distributes assets as directed in the trust deed. If, on the other hand, the trust is created by the testator's will -- known as a testamentary trust -- trust assets are included in the probate estate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Death Without a Will in Michigan


Related articles

New York Estate Law When the Executor Dies

New York, like all other states, recognizes a written will as the proper method for making your wishes known as to the distribution of your assets when you die. The executor is the person named in the will to see that the terms of the will are carried out. If an executor dies before she has completed her duties, the court must appoint a new executor.

What Assets Need to Be Listed for Probate?

If you are appointed as the executor or administrator of an estate, one of the most important responsibilities you have is to gather and catalog all of the decedent’s property to be included in his probate estate. A probate estate asset is property the decedent owned not automatically transferred to someone else upon his death due to contract or operation of law. The rules of probate are defined by state law; therefore, standards may vary depending on where the decedent lived.

Rules for Witnessing a Will

A last will and testament is a powerful legal document that instructs the executor of an estate how to distribute the property of the writer of the will, known as the testator, after he dies. Because of the potential and motivation for fraud, state governments have passed laws imposing strict restrictions on the format of a will. All states require that the testator's signature be witnessed.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

The Amount of Time Allowed to Probate a Will in Pennsylvania

State laws vary with regard to probate. Probate is a judicial process where a special court oversees the administration ...

Time Limitations in California State Inheritance Laws

Many deadlines follow a person's death as his estate is being probated in California. Probate is the process by which ...

Who Enforces the Execution of a Will?

In drafting your will, you may appoint a person to serve as your executor, also known as a personal representative. ...

Probate of a Will for a Surviving Spouse in Illinois

Probate is a legal process that occurs after a person's death. When the person dies, all of his assets – called his ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED