Who will be my heir?

Updated: Mar 25

In previous posts, you learned about how not having an estate plan complicates the probate process. Click here for a refresher. The focus of this post is determining who will be an heir if you die without an estate plan.

Let's start with a little bit of estate planning terminology first. An heir is a descendant who stands to inherit from your estate if you did not set up an estate plan. A beneficiary is someone you name in your estate plan as a recipient of all or part of your estate.

In Washington State, RCW 11.04.015 informs who will be treated as an heir and in what order of priority when an individual has died intestate (without an estate plan). The breakdown is as follows:

  1. Surviving spouse or registered domestic partner will receive all community property and half of any separate property if children also survive the decedent. Surviving spouse or registered domestic partner will receive three quarters of separate property if the decedent is survived by parents or issue of the parents;

  2. If there is no surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, issue of the decedent will inherit the decedent's property. Note that if a child of the decedent predeceased the decedent, that child's share can go to his/her/their issue;

  3. If the decedent is not survived by issue, then the parents of decedent will stand to inherit from the estate;

  4. If the decedent is not survived by parents, then the issue of the parents would be next in line to inherit;

  5. Finally, if none of the above are living, then the grandparents of the decedent would be the next heirs in line and if the grandparents are not living, then issue of the grandparents.

Note, even if this is exactly how you would like your estate to be distributed, having an estate plan will make the process of getting distributions to the heirs that much smoother and quicker. Without an estate plan, an estate administration can be months or years longer and will also have higher legal fees. This means that heirs will have to wait longer to receive distributions and will stand to inherit less once legal fees are deducted.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By accessing this blog site you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Sekhon Law, PLLC. This post should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.