Children and Intestacy in DC

Intestacy laws are the District of Columbia’s default set of laws that are used when someone dies without a valid last will and testament, or provisions of a last will and testament are found to be invalid. The District of Columbia intestacy laws provide an order of priority for individuals to serve as personal representative, as well rules regarding the distribution of a decedent’s estate.

Non-Biological Children

In DC, the laws of intestacy are based on lineage or bloodlines. In the event that there is a person that a decedent considers to be like a son or a daughter who may not be related by a recognized bloodline or officially adopted, there is always a question of whether that person will be in the line of succession. This is often the case for step-parents. It can be important for individuals that wish to ensure that their assets are passed on to somebody who is not one of their lineal heirs to express their wishes by creating a last will and testament.

Adopted Children

Families are created in a number of ways, adoption is just one way for a family to grow. However, estate planning should also be tailored to meet the needs of each unique family dynamic. For example, an adopted child will only be in the lineal line of the adopting parent. If the other spouse, although acting as a co-parent, did not also adopt the child then the adopted child will not be included in the non-adoptive parent’s lineal line and will likely not inherit from the non-adoptive parent’s estate unless named in his or her last will and testament. Careful estate planning can address such issues prior to the death of the non-adoptive parent.


Generally, according to the District of Columbia laws of intestacy, a child can only inherit from one bloodline. Therefore, a step-child, unless provided for in a step-parent’s last will and testament, may not receive any distribution from his or her step-parent’s estate.

Illegitimate Children

Generally, the term “illegitimate child” refers to a child born out of wedlock. In the event that a decedent had a child where paternity was not established according to DC law prior to death, and he dies without a last will and testament, there may be ambiguity regarding the rightful heirs to his estate. Similarly, when an adult child dies intestate with no spouse or children of his or her own, and his or her paternity has not been established prior to death, there may also be ambiguity regarding which individuals are entitled to inherit from his or estate. When there are known out-of-wedlock children, it may be helpful to consult with an estate planning attorney to assist with carefully crafting an estate plan that allows for assets to be distributed pursuant to the testator’s wishes.

How an Attorney Can Help

Lawyers are generally not classified as “intestacy lawyers.” Generally, lawyers that handle estate administration work with estates where decedents have valid original last will(s) and testament(s), and those where decedents have died “intestate” or without a last will and testament. A person may wish to seek counsel as soon as possible after the death of a loved one—regardless of whether there is a last will and testament, and regardless of whether there are issues with the last will and testament, for advice regarding how to proceed with the administration of the estate.

Generally, after the death of a loved one it may be prudent to hire an attorney as soon as possible to assist with the administration proceedings. Regardless of the presence of children, an estate administration attorney can assist with determining and defining the heirs, beginning to marshal the assets, and having an individual appointed to serve as personal representative of the estate.