Intestacy laws are default laws that the District of Columbia provides when a person has not created any last will and testament prior to death or no last will and testament has been located. The laws are there as a default, but often it is better to have a last will and testament or some other estate planning in place, all of which an experienced DC probate lawyer can help you with.
Division of Estate in DC
In Washington, DC, if there was a surviving spouse but no other descendant or parents, the entire estate would be distributed to the surviving spouse.
If there is a surviving spouse with a descendant of both the deceased and the surviving spouse, then two-thirds (2/3) of the balance of the estate would be distributed to the surviving spouse and the other one-third (1/3) would be distributed to other descendants.
If there is a surviving spouse and a parent of the decedent, then three-fourths (3/4) of the balance of the estate would be distributed to the surviving spouse and the remaining one-fourth (1/4) would be distributed to the surviving parent.
If there is a surviving spouse and a descendant of both the deceased and the surviving spouse and the surviving spouse also has a descendant not from the deceased individual, then one-half (1/2) of the balance would be distributed to the surviving spouse and the other one-half (1/2) of the balance would go to the decedent’s children, not the child of the surviving spouse who is not also the child of the decedent.
If there is a surviving spouse and descendants of the deceased who are not the descendants of the surviving spouse, then also one half (1/2) of the balance of the estate would go to surviving spouse. In many cases, it is also important that under the DC laws of intestacy what the surviving spouse and the other descendant’s get may also qualify for other allowances.
The division of assets in a DC probate case depends largely upon who the surviving relations are. Not having a last will and testament prepared at the time of your death may mean that your surviving relations are not taken care of to your best wishes after your death. Avoid that potential hurdle by creating a last will and testament with the help of an experienced probate attorney in DC.
Funds Distributed to Children
When children of the decedent share the same parents, DC intestacy laws proscribe that the estate are distributed equally among children when they are entitled to receive distribution. The important thing to note is that for children under the age of eighteen, there must be a guardian procedure, which is a separate procedure from the probate proceedings to allow an individual to accept those assets or inheritance on the child’s behalf.
The requirement of establishing a guardianship for minor children may be avoided by proper planning. Often, an individual’s last will and testament may include trust provisions for minors, so that the necessity of establishing a guardianship is alleviated. Guardianships can be costly and time consuming, and require continued court supervision until the minor child becomes of age.
Factors That Can Impact Estate Division
The important factor is what assets are actually passed through the DC probate estate. For example, a decedent may have a surviving spouse and may have children that are both children of the surviving spouse and children of the decedent, but the assets may be passed outside of the estate either by titling or beneficiary designations.
The reality is that although the intestacy law says that the children may receive half of the property, none of the decedent’s assets are probate assets, so in effect the surviving spouse is receiving the entirety of the estate. Titling and beneficiary designation can greatly affect the distribution of assets from an estate.
If Decedent Doesn’t Have Surviving Relations
D.C. Code §19-701(a) (2016) states: “Where there is no surviving spouse, surviving domestic partner, or relations of the intestate within the fifth degree, reckoned by counting down from the common ancestor to the more remote, the surplus of real and personal property escheats to the District of Columbia to be used by the Mayor of the District of Columbia for the benefit of the poor.”
Important Reminders About DC Laws of Intestacy
The laws of intestacy are default laws. This means that if an individual dies without a last will and testament, or the last will and testament is found to be void, D.C. law provides guidance regarding what individuals have priority to serve as personal representative, and how the estate assets will be distributed. Because the laws are not tailored to an individual’s wishes, leaving an estate to be decided by D.C. law can allow for increased administrative expenses, and expose the estate to fighting among the heirs. Someone who would rather shelter their family from expenses and conflicts stemming from issues with their estate should recruit the services of an experienced DC probate lawyer.
If a testator executes a last will and testament which expresses his or wishes for the administration of his or her estate, it provides the testator with an opportunity to plan for estate taxes, ensure that his or her assets are not left to unintended heirs, and to coordinate beneficiary designations to provide liquidity for the estate.