In Alaska, as in other states, when a decedent doesn't make a will, his property and assets must be divided according to the state's inheritance laws. These laws, known as "laws of intestate succession," provide guidelines as to the priority of heirs and what happens to property when there are no heirs.
When an Alaskan makes a will, he is free to leave everything to his spouse. Because Alaska is an "opt-in" community property state, property acquired while married is considered equally owned by both spouses if they have a written agreement. If spouses have a community property agreement, they cannot give more than their share of community property to a third-party in a will. If a spouse dies without a will, the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate -- both community property and separate property -- if the deceased spouse has no surviving children or parents. However, if the deceased spouse has no children, but has a surviving parent, the surviving spouse can only receive up to $200,000, plus three-fourths of what remains of the estate.
Alaska's inheritance laws provide for children when a parent fails to leave a will. For example, if an unmarried parent dies without a will, his children receive all of his estate in equal shares. This means that if there are four children, each child is entitled to one-fourth of the estate. Furthermore, if the parent who dies without a will is married at the time of death, his children are entitled to a portion of the estate if his surviving spouse had children with someone else, i.e. children with a man other than the deceased, for example, an ex-husband..
Alaska's inheritance laws state that a decedent's other heirs -- such as siblings, nieces, nephews and grandparents -- receive all, or a portion of the estate under certain circumstances. For example, if a decedent has no surviving spouse or children, his parents inherit his entire estate in equal shares. If a decedent has no surviving spouse, children or parents, his entire estate passes to his siblings in equal shares; nieces and nephews may inherit "by right of representation" if their parents are deceased. If there are no surviving heirs whatsoever, a decedent's estate will pass to the State of Alaska.
Read More: Who Are Heirs to a Last Will & Testament?
As a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Native Alaskans may own shares in one of the 13 Regional Corporations or a village corporation. Alaska Natives may leave their shares in a will to Native family members and non-Native spouses. If an Alaska Native owns shares, but doesn't make a will, all of his shares will pass to his surviving spouse. If he has children and a surviving spouse, half of his shares will pass to his surviving spouse and the other half to his surviving children.
- FindLaw: Inheritance Law and Your Rights
- Living Trust Network: Alaska Intestacy Laws
- Alaska Legal Resource Center: AS 13.12.102 Share of Spouse
- The Free Dictionary: Per Stirpes
- Alaska Legal Resource Center: AS 38.95.200 Real Property Subject to Escheat
- Alaskool: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971
- Shaftel Law Offices: Alaska Strengthens Community Property Agreements and Trusts by Clarifying Right to Amend and Revoke
Andrine Redsteer's writing on tribal gaming has been published in "The Guardian" and she continues to write about reservation economic development. Redsteer holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Washington, a Master of Arts in Native American studies from Montana State University and a Juris Doctor from Seattle University School of Law.