You can find Washington state's inheritance laws in Title 11 of the Revised Code of Washington, the Probate and Trust Law chapter. Anyone over 18 and mentally competent may draw up and sign a will to direct the distribution of estate assets.
Probate or Not
Heirs may not need to go through probate to inherit. If the estate is worth less than $100,000, an heir has the right to submit an affidavit to the court stating that she has inherited a particular asset. For example, once the court signs off, an heir can submit the affidavit and death certificate to a bank to prove that she's entitled to the decedent's accounts.
The personal representative named to manage the estate can also petition the probate court to manage the estate without court supervision. The court may allow this if the estate is solvent, with more assets than debts.
Under the Will
Normally, the decedent is entitled to distribute his property in the will however he wishes. State law makes some exceptions:
- Washington is a community property state, so the decedent and his spouse, if he was married, have half-ownership of assets that the other partner acquired in life. Half the interest in any community property assets — the family home, a bank account — belong to the decedent's spouse automatically. The decedent can give the other half to anyone he chooses.
- If an heir dies before the decedent, the heir doesn't inherit. If there's a question of exact timing, state law says there must be clear evidence the heir survived the decedent by at least five days.
- If the will doesn't leave anything to the decedent's spouse or child, the spouse or child is still entitled to a share of the estate. The share is equal to what the individual would have received if there was no will. Washington law makes an exception if it can be shown the omission was intentional rather than an error.
- If someone is found guilty of abusing or killing the decedent, that person cannot inherit any assets.
When a Washington state resident dies intestate — without making a will — Washington law defines who has the right to inherit:
- The spouse receives all the community property and anywhere from one half to all of the decedent's separate property, depending on whether the decedent has surviving children or parents.
- The remainder of the estate, or the entire estate if there's no spouse, is divided equally among the decedent's children. If there are no children, it passes to the decedent's parents. If there are no surviving parents, the siblings inherit.
Read More: The Effect of Abandonment of Heirs on Intestate Succession
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.