After you've spent some time grieving over the loss of a loved one, it's reasonable to question how her property will be distributed and whether you will be entitled to any of it. In Kentucky, your rights depend on several factors including how the property was titled, provisions of her will and whether you were related to the deceased person.
Probate and Non-Probate Property
Your right to a deceased person's property depends, in part, on whether her assets are classified as probate or non-probate property. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing someone's assets after they die. Certain "non-probate" property avoids this process. For example, real estate that is jointly owned with survivorship rights automatically passes to the other owners when one owner dies. Additionally, life insurance proceeds, retirement benefits and "payable on death" bank accounts are typically considered non-probate assets that are also automatically dispersed at death. By contrast, all other property will go through the probate process, and how it is distributed will depend on the terms of the will or state's intestacy laws. Any outstanding debts the deceased person had while living must be paid off before any distributions can be made to you.
To determine if you have any rights to the deceased's probate assets, you can review the individual's will, if he left a valid one. In Kentucky, a will is only valid if it was created when the deceased was mentally competent. The document must be signed, both by the creator and two witnesses who are not inheriting under the will. The state also recognizes "holographic wills," which do not require witnesses, but a holographic will must be completely handwritten. To ascertain if a holographic will is valid, it is best to consult an attorney.
Surviving Spouse Rights
If the will is valid, heirs generally have the right to the probate property distributions as outlined in the will, but only if a surviving spouse gets her share as required by Kentucky law. State law does not allow anyone to disinherit a spouse; widows and widowers are entitled to at least one-third of the real estate and one-half of all other probate property. If the will did not leave the spouse with the minimum share required, she is still entitled to it, despite what is actually in the will.
When an individual dies without a valid will, his probate assets will instead pass according to the state's intestacy laws. Here, your right to the property depends on the proximity of your legal relationship to the deceased. Under these laws, if the deceased had a spouse and children, the spouse would receive half and children would get the other half of the property. If the deceased did not have children, his spouse and parents each receive half of the property. If the deceased did not have a spouse or parents but did have children, the children get everything. If he did not have a spouse or children, his parents receive all of his property. Without parents, spouse or children, his assets go to his siblings.