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.
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.
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.