Table of Contents:
- Colorado Inheritance Laws
- Indiana Inheritance Law
- Inheritance Laws in Tennessee
- Inheritance Laws in Louisiana
- North Carolina's Inheritance Law
- New York Inheritance Law
- Kansas Inheritance Laws
- Inheritance Laws in Washington
- Illinois Law on Inheritance
- What Are the Inheritance Laws in Florida?
- Georgia Inheritance Laws
- Virginia Inheritance Law
When someone dies in Colorado, the executor named in his will or a person appointed by the court begins the probate process. The executor gives notice to the decedent's beneficiaries -- or his heirs if he did not have a will -- and pays off any final debts. The remaining probate property is then distributed to the beneficiaries he named in his will or to others as determined by state law.
Probate property is property the decedent owned in his own name at the time of his death, according to the Law Office of Larry A. Henning, P.C. This excludes property that was owned with a right of survivorship and transferred to the other owner at death, accounts that designate a beneficiary upon the account owner's death, property held in trust and accounts with payable-on-death designations.
If the decedent has no will, the amount of the probate estate the surviving spouse receives depends on which other family members are still alive. If the decedent had no parents or descendants, such as children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the spouse receives the entire estate. Otherwise, the surviving spouse's share is as follows:
- If the decedent only had children with the surviving spouse and the surviving spouse has no other surviving children, the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate.
- If the decedent had children with the surviving spouse but the surviving spouse has other surviving children who are not the decedent's offspring, the surviving spouse receives the first $150,000 of the estate and half of the remaining balance. The other half goes to the decedent's surviving children.
- If the decedent has children who are not the children of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse inherits the first $100,000 and half of the remaining balance, and the surviving children of the decedent receive the other half of the balance.
- If there are surviving parents but no descendants, the spouse receives the first $200,000 and three-fourths of the remaining balance. The decedent's parents receive the other fourth of the remaining balance.
If there is a will, the spouse can choose to take what was left to her, or she can claim the elective share permitted under state law. Colorado estate planning lawyer Kimberly Willoughby explains that the elective share provides a larger portion of the estate to the surviving spouse the longer the two were married.
When determining the amount that an heir receives, all debtor's claims and a reasonable allowance for support are first deducted from the probate estate.
Children can be disinherited according to Colorado law. However, the Colorado firm of Althaus Law explains that the state laws of intestacy give children who were born after the will was written the right to receive a share of the estate. Therefore, if a parent wants to specifically disinherit a child, he should clearly spell this out in the will.
According to Colorado's intestacy laws, the amount that a child receives if a will doesn't exist is based on whether the decedent was married and how many children there are. If there is no surviving spouse, the children inherit the entire estate. If the surviving spouse was the children's mother but had children outside the marriage, the children receive the other half of the remaining estate, less the first $150,000. If the surviving spouse was not the children's parent, the children receive half of the remaining estate, less the first $100,000.
If a child predeceases the decedent, his share is split evenly between his children. Take the following example: Adam had four children, Beverly, Chris, David and Eli. Eli died after having two children, Frank and Gertrude. Beverly, Chris and David would each have a one-fourth share of the estate. Frank and Gertrude would split their father's one-fourth share, so they would have one-eighth of a share each.
If there is no surviving spouse and no surviving descendant, other heirs stand to inherit based on how closely they are related to the decedent. The next priority goes to the decedent's parents and then his siblings. If none of these relatives are living, nieces and nephews inherit. Grandparents are next in line, followed by aunts and uncles.
The surviving spouse inherits the whole estate if no parents, children or other descendants of the decedent outlive him. The spouse inherits three-quarters of the estate if any parent is still alive and one-half if any descendant is alive. If the decedent has a descendant from a previous marriage, the surviving spouse inherits only one-quarter of the value of any real property.
Descendants inherit the remainder not distributed to the surviving spouse or, if no spouse survives, the entire estate. Children are entitled to equal shares. Other descendants receive a proportional share based on how closely they are related.
Other Family Members
Parents, siblings and the children of siblings share the remainder not distributed to a spouse or descendants. Parents share equally with siblings, except that a parent is entitled to at least one-quarter of the estate.
A parent may not inherit from her child if she was convicted of causing the death of the child’s other parent.
When no relatives are alive, the property goes to the state.
If a person in Tennessee has a will, the will dictates who will receive the property the deceased owned at death. If there is no will or if a court finds the will invalid because the testator, or maker, was not of sound mind, the testator was coerced or the requirements of forming a valid will were not followed, the state laws of intestacy determine who stands to inherit the decedent's property.
When a person dies, the assets that he owns at death are considered part of a probate estate. Some assets are not part of this estate because they are transferred at the time of death, such as life insurance policies, accounts with a payable-on-death transfer form on file with the financial institution or property that is owned jointly with the right of survivorship.
If a person has a will, the executor that he named petitions the probate court in the county where the person died to open probate. If he had no will, someone interested in serving as the executor can petition the court. In Tennessee, probate is necessary for all estates that include real property or that have a value greater than $50,000.
The executor has to file inventories of assets with the court, contact heirs, beneficiaries and creditors and file certain documents with the court. After all debts are paid off, the executor distributes the remaining assets to the people named in the will. If there is no will, state laws of intestacy determine to whom the assets go and to what proportion.
The probate process is only concerned with those assets considered "probate assets." Other assets that are transferred to a trust, to a co-tenant with right of survivorship or through a payable-on-death transfer avoid going through probate.
Rights of Surviving Spouse
Under Tennessee law, a surviving spouse has the right to keep whatever the will gives her or to take an elective share. As the Tennessee-based Collins Law Firm explains, this law prevents a spouse from cutting the other out of the will or leaving so little to the other spouse that she could not be independent. The amount of the elective share is based on how long the couple was married. For spouses married less than three years, their share is 10 percent of the estate. If married less than six years, their share is 20 percent. Marriages of less than nine years correspond with 30 percent of the estate and marriages longer than nine years result in the highest percentage of 40 percent of the estate.
Tennessee law also gives the surviving spouse the right to live in the marital home for the rest of her life, even if the will says something different. The survivor is also entitled to one year's worth of support from the estate while it is in the midst of the probate process.
The probate court has the discretion to give the surviving spouse personal property in lieu of the year's allowance.
If there is no will, the surviving spouse is entitled to all of the estate if there are no surviving descendants of the decedent, such as children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. If there are surviving descendants, the surviving spouse is entitled to the greater of one-third of the estate or a child's share.
Rights of Surviving Children
Under Tennessee law if a person has a valid will, the beneficiary is only entitled to what is listed in the will. Tennessee law permits a person to disinherit his children. Although it is a common belief that someone can be disinherited by giving them $1 in the will, Tennessee estate planning lawyer Ryan Higgens explains that this is a misconception and unnecessary. The preferred method is for the individual to spell out in his will that the person is being excluded so this information is clear if the child chooses to contest the will. However, surviving children get the family home after the surviving spouse dies.
If there is no will and no surviving spouse, the surviving children are entitled to the entire estate. Stepchildren do not stand to inherit anything under the Tennessee laws of intestacy if the decedent never adopted them.
Rights of Other Surviving Relatives
Tennessee law provides for other relatives to inherit the decedent's property if he had no surviving spouse or descendants, giving priority to family members who are more closely related to the decedent. If there is no will or the will is invalidated, the following relatives of the decedent stand to inherit in order:
- nieces and nephews
- aunts and uncles
Louisiana’s Usufruct Laws
The term usufruct loosely translates to “use” and “fruits.” Under Louisiana law, you have the right to leave a beneficiary the right to use or live in certain property, and you can give actual ownership of the same property to someone else. This second person is called a “naked owner,” and he’s the only one who actually has a right to sell the property. He can do it while the first beneficiary is still living there, but the new owner can't evict her -- all he can sell is his eventual right to make use of the property. When she dies, her usufruct passes to the beneficiary who has naked ownership and he then has full ownership. You might consider making a bequest like this so you can control what happens to your property when your first beneficiary dies. Because she doesn’t own it outright, she can’t pass it to anyone else in her own will.
If You Die Without a Will
If you die without a will, this is “intestate” succession and Louisiana law decides who gets your property. It’s a community property state so the process is a bit more complicated than in some other jurisdictions. Everything you acquire after the date of your marriage, with the exception of inheritances or gifts made solely to you, is community property. Your spouse owns half of this. Everything else, such as property you owned before you got married, is your separate property. If you die without a will, your separate property goes to your children or other relatives. Your spouse has no right to it. But she’s entitled to her half of the community property and she has usufruct to your half of the community property until her death or she remarries, whichever occurs first. She would only receive an outright bequest of your half of community property if you leave no other relatives. If you leave a spouse and children, your children would receive your separate property and naked ownership of your half of the community property. If you have no children but your parents survive you, your spouse would receive all the community property and your parents would inherit your separate property.
Louisiana law also provides for “forced heirs." A forced heir is someone you cannot legally disinherit -- the law forces you to leave him a statutory share in your will, although the bequest is limited to what he would have received if you had died without a will. Your children are forced heirs until they reach the age of 24. If a child is disabled, Louisiana considers him a forced heir regardless of his age, until such time as he recovers or for his lifetime if he doesn’t recover.
Rules for Writing a Will
Louisiana law isn’t all that unique if you leave a will. As in most other states, you must be of sound mind to do so and the will must be printed, not handwritten or oral. The minimum age to write a will is 16, a bit younger than in other states. You must sign at the end of the document, and Louisiana requires that you sign each page as well. If you add any provisions to the will below your signature, it’s left to the discretion of the court whether to honor or ignore them. Louisiana requires that your will be notarized and you’ll need two additional witnesses as well. They must be at least 16 years old, be able to sign their names, and under Louisiana’s statutes, they can’t be blind or insane. If one of your witnesses is also a beneficiary in your will, this won’t invalidate it, but she may not receive the entire bequest you gave her. She’s limited to anything she might have received if you had died without a will.
When someone dies without writing a will, the law presumes that if he had gotten around to it, he would have left his property to his closest family members. Most states have statutory lists spelling out exactly who these relatives are and how much of the estate they should receive. They’re named in a certain order called intestate succession. A spouse and children head up North Carolina’s list. If you don’t have kids and if your parents aren’t living, your spouse gets everything. If you have no spouse, your children inherit everything.
Your Spouse and Children
If you’re married, have children and your parents are still living, things get much more complicated. Who gets what and how much depends on how many children you have. If you leave only one child, your spouse gets half of any real estate you own plus the first $60,000 of your other property. Your child gets the other half of your real estate and half your other property over $60,000, with your spouse taking the other half of that. If you have more than one child, your spouse receives only one-third of your real estate and the first $60,000 of your other property, while your children equally share in the remaining two-thirds of your real estate and two-thirds of the balance of your other property over $60,000. Your spouse also receives one-third of the value of your additional property that doesn’t go to your kids.
More Distant Relatives
Your parents can inherit from you in North Carolina only if you have no children. If you’re married but have no kids, your spouse gets half of your real estate and your parents get the other half. Your spouse gets the first $100,000 of the rest of your property plus half the remaining balance, with your parents getting the other half. Your parents get everything if you’re not married and leave no children. Your siblings inherit only if your parents aren’t living and you leave no spouse or children, while your grandchildren only inherit if their parent, who is your child, is deceased. If you die without a will and don’t have any living family members, your property will be turned over to the state.
Disinheriting Family Members
North Carolina has an elective share law that applies if you leave a will but decide you don’t want to bequeath anything to your spouse. You’re not permitted to do this. She can “elect against” your will, effectively overriding its terms, providing she hasn’t waived this right in a prenuptial agreement. Exactly how much your spouse receives depends on how long you were married. If you were together for less than five years, she gets 15 percent of your net estate. If you were married for five to nine years, she gets 25 percent, and if you were married for 10 years or more, she receives 33 percent. “Net estate” refers to what’s left after your debts, taxes and costs of probate are paid and after subtracting anything you might have left her in your will that amounts to less than the percentage to which she’s entitled by law. For example, if you left her a token $100 in your will and you were married for three years, your wife would receive 15 percent of your estate after payment of your debts, taxes and probate expenses minus the $100 you bequeathed her.
Effect of Divorce
Divorce changes everything. If you divorce your spouse, she’s not entitled to an intestate share of your estate -- and she loses her right to an elective share as well. If you leave a will that gives her a bequest, she’s not entitled to it unless you explicitly state otherwise in the document, such as by saying that you want her to inherit regardless of the fact that your marriage didn’t work out. Further, if you named her as executor of your estate, she can’t serve. Of course, if you remarry, all these rights under North Carolina's inheritance laws are reinstated.
With or Without a Valid Last Will and Testament
The decedent's will names the beneficiaries and the property which is distributed as inheritance. However, when there is no valid will, New York’s laws of intestate succession determine who will inherit from the decedent. Not all states follow the same procedure or percentage of distribution. According to the laws of New York Estate, Powers, Trust Section 4.1-1, a surviving spouse with no issue (child, grandchild and great-grandchild) would receive 100 percent of the estate. However, if the decedent had children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, the spouse would receive one-half of the estate in addition to a monetary sum and the issue(s) receive the remainder of the estate.
A common misconception with New York inheritance law is the belief that the state of New York will acquire all of the assets of the estate if there are no heirs. While this may be possible it is a rare instance. The pyramid of inheritance or intestate succession will reach the decedent’s parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and half-blood relatives before distributing the decedent’s property to the State of New York.
Non-existent Heirs or Property
Since years may pass between the times someone makes a will and the time of his death, circumstances may change. Heirs may predecease the maker of the will. The decedent may not own property listed in the will. These situations make for a questionable inheritance. New York law states that a person may only inherit property which was owned by the decedent at his death. For example if a specific antique table is given to an individual in a will, but at the time of the decedents death the table no longer exists, that person may not inherit anything. In some cases, a monetary value is placed on the table and given to the heir. If an heir or beneficiary of a will pre-deceases the decedent, her inheritance will pass according to her estate. For example, if Mary Smith creates a will giving a piano to her sister, Ruth, but Ruth dies before Mary, the piano will be distributed to Ruth's spouse and children or according to the terms of Ruth's will.
Depending on the value of the estate and if an estate income tax return is filed, an estate may be probated through the proper New York Probate Court within six months. This includes the final distribution of the assets to the heirs from the estate.
Many individuals are able to undertake the process of probating an estate in New York without difficulty. The staff of your local county Probate Court can provide forms in order to begin the probate process. If you become unsure of the process, seek the advice of an attorney licensed to practice in the state of New York. Many attorneys are able to guide you through the process or answer any questions relating to inheritance law in New York.
Kansas law requires a petition to be filed to open a probate case within six months of an individual's death, according to the Kansas Bar Association. The assets that remain at the end of the process are distributed to the beneficiaries the decedent named in a will or to certain family members as determined by state laws of intestacy if he had no will or the court finds the will invalid.
Once the probate case is opened, in Kansas the executor is responsible for a number of duties, including taking possession of the decedent's property and notifying heirs and creditors of the death. The executor is also responsible for determining the name, address, age and degree of relationship of the decedent's heirs and paying the final debts of the deceased. The process includes attending court hearings and filing necessary paperwork with the probate court. If there is a will, the executor is responsible for providing the items and sums included in the will to the intended beneficiaries. If no will exists, the executor distributes any remaining property in accordance with the laws of intestacy.
The probate process is only concerned with assets the decedent owned at the time of death. Therefore, trust assets, life insurance proceeds, assets that pass through a transfer-on-death or payable-on-death designation or assets that are owned with someone else as joint tenants are excluded from these proceedings.
Surviving Spouse's Rights
Kansas law provides several protections for surviving spouses. For example, Kansas estate planning attorney Victor Panus says that surviving spouses are entitled to exempt property, including household furnishings and one vehicle. Additionally, the spouse and minor children are entitled to a family allowance of $35,000 and a homestead exemption of 1 acre of a city residence or 160 acres outside of a city, regardless of their value. The surviving spouse is also entitled to half of all real property owned by the decedent when he died, regardless of what the will says.
A surviving spouse has the option to take whatever was left to her in the will or the amount provided to her by state law known as her elective share. The portion to which she is entitled under state law increases the longer the couple was married, ranging from 3 percent of the augmented estate for marriages lasting one year to 50 percent of the augmented estate for marriages lasting 15 or more years. The augmented estate refers to the value of the probate assets and nonprobate transfers to the surviving spouse and others minus funeral expenses, claims against the estate, homestead rights and family allowances.
If there is no will or the probate court determines that it is invalid, the remaining property is distributed according to the Kansas rules of intestate succession. This series of laws states that the surviving spouse shall inherit everything if the decedent has no descendants. If there are surviving children but no surviving spouse, the children inherit everything. If there are both surviving descendants -- such as children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren -- and a surviving spouse, the surviving spouse inherits half of the estate and the descendants inherit the other half. Parents and then siblings have the next priority.
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.
In Illinois, if the decedent made a valid will, then the estate will be divided per the instructions in the will. To be valid, a will must be in writing, signed by the testator and witnessed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries. The testator must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind.
The spouse and descendants inherit equally. Next in line to inherit are the parents, siblings and descendants of siblings. If the estate is not exhausted, then grandparents or descendants of grandparents are next, followed by great-grandparents and descendants of great-grandparents. Last in line are nearest kindred who do not fall into one of the other categories.
No Heirs or Remainder
If there are no heirs of the decedent, or if there is a remainder after all heirs have inherited, then the real property of the estate (or portion thereof) is passed to the county where any real property is located. The rest of the estate passes to the county where the decedent lived.
Writing a Valid Will
A will sets forth how your property will be distributed after death. It may also name an executor, called a personal representative in Florida, who is responsible for administering the estate. To be valid under Florida law, a will must be in writing and you must be at least 18 years old and mentally competent when you create it. State law requires you to acknowledge and sign the document in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign it.
A Spouse's Inheritance Rights
Florida law does not permit you to disinherit a surviving spouse. If you leave your spouse completely out of your will, whether intentionally or inadvertently, your spouse is still entitled to inherit from the estate under the law. This right of election must be made no later than six months after your surviving spouse is notified that the estate is being processed by the probate court, or within two years after your death, whichever is sooner. The Florida probate court will award your spouse's inheritance, called the elective share, out of the estate assets before distributions to any other beneficiaries are made. Under Florida law, a spouse's elective share is 30 percent of the value of the entire state.
Inheritance Through Intestate Succession
If you die without a valid will, your estate will pass according to the state's intestacy laws. In Florida, your surviving spouse inherits your entire estate if there are no surviving children, or if any children also are your surviving spouse's children. If you are survived by children who are not those of your surviving spouse, your spouse inherits half of the estate and the children inherit equal shares of the remaining half. If there is no surviving spouse, your children inherit equal shares of the entire estate. If there is no surviving spouse or children, intestate succession requires distribution of the estate to other surviving family members, such as parents or siblings. If no family members survive or can be located, the entire estate goes to the State School Fund of Florida.
Some estate assets already have a designated beneficiary. All property owned jointly by husband and wife, known as tenants by the entirety, automatically passes to the surviving spouse upon the death of the other. The same is true for any property owned jointly with a right of survivorship with parties other than a spouse. If, for example, three siblings owned a vacation property jointly with a right of survivorship, the deceased sibling's share would be split equally among the surviving siblings. Other non-probate assets include life insurance policies with named beneficiaries and bank accounts classified as payable or transferable upon death.
While many provisions regarding wills in Georgia are similar to those in other states, Georgia inheritance law has a few twists. The age to legally make a will in Georgia is one of the youngest in the country, and the state gives surviving spouses and minor children the right to apply for a "year's support award" that is actually a transfer of estate property free of any debt or encumbrance.
Georgia Will Requirements
Many states make residents wait until they reach the age of 18 to make a valid will, but Georgia is not among them. If you are 14 years of age in Georgia and competent, you can make a will. Wills must be in writing to be valid.
The person making the will is the testator and, under the Georgia code, the testator must sign the will freely and voluntarily in front of two witnesses. The witnesses must then sign the will in the presence of the testator.
It is not necessary to notarize the signatures on the will. However, if you do, you can make a self-proving will that speeds up probate. If you make a self-proving will, the witnesses do not need to appear in court and testify about the making of the will.
Always review your will if a major life event occurs, like a marriage, divorce or birth of a child. If you don't change your will at these moments, certain parts of your bequests -- such as those made to a spouse you have now divorced -- may be invalidated under the law.
Under Georgia law, a surviving spouse or minor children can apply for what is known as a "year's support award" from the deceased's estate. Despite the name, the year's support award is actually a permanent award of property.
A spouse cannot apply for a year's support if she has remarried. The children cannot apply for the award if they are 18 years or older or are married. They must apply to the probate court for this award within two years from the date of death. Although the property award is intended to support the remaining family for one year, there is no limit to how much can be requested. However, other beneficiaries of the will can oppose the award petition. The spouse and children take year's support assets free of all encumbrances and estate debts.
Revoking a Will in Georgia
A will in Georgia is valid unless and until you revoke it, and you can revoke it at any time in your life as long as you remain competent. The best way to revoke a will is to draft and sign a new one with the same legal formalities such as witnesses. However, you can also revoke a will by ripping it apart or destroying it with the intent to revoke it.
Dying Without a Will in Georgia
If the deceased does not leave a valid will in Georgia, the estate property must be distributed to close family members according to the state's intestate succession statute. Who inherits what depends on which relatives have survived, with preference given to a surviving spouse and surviving children.
If there is a surviving spouse but no children, the spouse gets the entire estate. If the children survive but the spouse does not, the children inherit everything. If both spouse and children survive, they split the estate equally, except that the spouse is entitled to at least one-third share of the estate.
If there is no surviving spouse or children, the parents of the deceased inherit in Georgia. In the absence of all of these relatives, the deceased's siblings inherit.
A lot of laws work together to make sure property passes to an individual's rightful heirs and beneficiaries when he dies. Inheritance laws protect some people from being cut out of wills, and they make sure family members are provided for when there is no will. Virginia’s laws cover all these bases.
The Probate Estate
Inheritance laws deal with an individual’s probate estate -- property that can’t pass to someone else unless the court gets involved to transfer ownership. Some forms of estate planning don’t require the court’s assistance. Assets with beneficiary designations, living trusts, payable-on-death or transfer-on-death accounts and certain jointly titled real estate all pass directly to a survivor by operation of law; it happens without a court order. All other property requires probate.
Disinheriting Family Members
You can disinherit almost anyone in Virginia, with two exceptions. You can’t cut your spouse out of your will, at least not entirely, and you can’t disinherit your minor children. You can legally disinherit your adult children in every state but Louisiana.
Spouses are protected from disinheritance by the elective share law. If you bequeath your spouse nothing or next to nothing, she can challenge your will_. Virginia law gives her six months to notify the court that she won’t accept the terms of your will and she wants to claim her elective share instead. If you have children, this entitles her to one-third of your augmented estate_ -- probate property jointly owned by both of you. If you don’t have children, she gets half.
Your minor children are similarly protected. If they’re not mentioned in your will and you’re not married to their other parent at the time of your death, their other parent or guardian can petition the court to make sure your children receive financial support from your estate, just as they would be entitled to your financial support during your lifetime.
Virginia guarantees that your surviving spouse and all your children -- both minors and adults -- get a share of your estate if you should die without a will. Rules for intestate succession provide for your spouse to receive your entire estate if you have no children. If you have children but no spouse, your children receive your whole estate. If you have both a spouse and children, the equation gets a bit trickier. If your surviving spouse is also the parent of all your children, she gets your entire estate, but if you have a child from another relationship, your spouse’s share drops to one-third. All your child share in the balance.
Your parents can only inherit from you if you leave no spouse or children, and your siblings can only inherit if you have no living parent, no spouse and no children. If you have no living relatives at all, the state will take your property, but this happens only rarely. The court will conduct a diligent search for kin, no matter how distantly related, before your estate will escheat -- or transfer -- to the state.