For many in Tacoma, the topic of estate planning may be a sensitive one. First and foremost, people, in general, do not like facing the prospect of their own mortality. Yet even beyond that, there is the issue of not wanting to upset one’s beneficiaries by giving the impression of favoritism due to the allotment of some in an estate’s distribution.

This fear may even prompt some to believe that if they do not leave behind a will, their heirs can determine how to distribute their estate assets. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Intestate succession explained

When a person dies without leaving a will behind, the state classifies their estate as intestate. States have the right to determine on their own how to administer such estates. This has led to the creation of individual state statutes detailing intestate succession. Section 11.04.015 of the Revised Code of Washington contains the local guidelines.

The dispersal of intestate estates

Per state law, the surviving spouse (or registered domestic partner) of one who dies intestate has claim to the following portion of that person’s estate:

  • 100% if the decedent has no surviving descendants
  • 75% if the decedent has no surviving descendants, but does have surviving parents
  • 50% if the decedent leaves behind descendants

Any portions of the estate not going to the surviving spouse passes in equal amounts to each of the other designated heirs.

If there is no surviving spouse to inherit one’s intestate estate, it will pass on to descendants. If there are no descendants, the estate will then go to the decedent’s parents. In cases where the decedent’s parents died prior to them, their estate would go to siblings (and descendants). If none of the aforementioned parties are available, the decedent’s paternal and maternal grandparents (or the extended family members on both sides) receive their assets in equal portion. Any adopted members of a decedent’s family (immediate or extended) are also heirs according to state law.