Transfer of Property After Dying Without a Will in Washington State

By Heather Frances J.D.

A will is your opportunity to leave final instructions for your loved ones, and it can address issues like guardianship for your minor children as well as who should manage your assets after your death. Wills also provide directions regarding how your property should be distributed. If you die without a will, you lose the opportunity to tell your loved ones how to distribute your assets, so your estate will be distributed according to Washington law instead.


If you die without a will in Washington, you are said to have died “intestate,” and Washington’s intestacy laws govern who receives your probate assets. Some assets, like life insurance and retirement accounts, are considered non-probate assets because they pass outside the probate process by going directly to beneficiaries you named when you set up the accounts. Washington law attempts to distribute your probate assets to those relatives the state assumes you would have wanted to receive the property. These laws operate like a default will for those who do not leave a will of their own.

Community Property

Washington is a community property state, which means that property you and your spouse acquire during your marriage is considered jointly owned. Thus, you cannot give away your spouse’s share of your community property, even if you have a will. If you die without a will, Washington courts first determine which of your assets are community property since your spouse automatically inherits all community property upon your death. Since the law presumes all of your assets are community property, someone claiming an asset is separate property must show why that asset should be considered separate. For example, a gift you received individually while you were married is not considered part of your community property.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Separate Property

Your children may be entitled to a portion of your estate even when you leave a surviving spouse. Though your spouse receives all of the community property when you die without a will, your separate property is split between your spouse and surviving children, with your spouse receiving half and your children sharing the other half. If you do not have any children, your spouse inherits all the community property and three quarters of your separate property, and your parents will inherit the other quarter of your separate property.

No Surviving Spouse

Washington law also provides for situations in which a deceased person does not leave a surviving spouse. If you die without a spouse, all of your property is treated as separate property. If you have children, everything passes to your children to be divided equally among them. If you have no children, your parents inherit all of your property. If neither your parents nor children survive you, your property passes to your siblings or, if a sibling has previously died, that sibling’s children.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Dying Without a Will in Maine


Related articles

Does a Will Leaving Everything to Your Spouse Go Through Probate?

Probate sounds intimidating and difficult to many people, but it is often required, even when you leave everything to your spouse. A will can be very helpful to your family to let them know what you wanted to happen with your property and can even appoint guardians for your minor children, but the will must be probated to be effective. However, there are also several ways to leave assets to your spouse outside the probate process.

California Probate Law & Next in Line Inheritance

If you die intestate in California – without leaving a will – probate law meets community property law. The state steps in to distribute your property according to a prescribed line of inheritance that depends on whether you're married and what type of property you hold. You can avoid this problem to some extent by leaving a will, but California's community property laws restrict your bequests somewhat.

What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will in Nebraska?

If someone dies with a valid will, the will leaves instructions about who should manage his estate and who should inherit his property. But, when a person dies without a will, he is said to have died “intestate” and Nebraska’s laws of intestate succession govern the way his estate is managed and distributed.

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

Related articles

Wyoming Estate Laws

Wyoming estate laws set forth how your property will be divided upon your death. Your estate includes everything you ...

Texas Inheritance Laws Without a Will

A will is an important part of ensuring that your property is distributed according to your wishes after your death. If ...

Texas Laws Concerning the Inheritance of a Husband & Wife

Texas laws on inheritances are detailed, governing topics such as whether an inheritance you receive while you are ...

Dying Without a Will in the State of Utah

Wills provide you with the greatest control over distribution of your property after death. Under Utah law, if no valid ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED