Last Will and Testament
Q. What happens if I die without a will in Washington?
A. If you don’t have a Will, your assets will be distributed by a process known as intestate succession. Intestate means “without a Will.” This process is governed by state statute.
In essence, if you are married, an initial analysis will be made of which assets are community property and which are separate property. In Washington, a presumption exists that all of your assets are community property.
If you are single and not in a domestic partnership, then all of your assets will be separate property. Once the property is divided up according to its community or separate character, then it will be distributed pursuant to this statute.
Without a Will: You will not be able to choose how your property will be distributed.
A benefit of a Will: it allows you to decide how your assets will be distributed at death.
In a Will, you choose who the personal representative will be. The personal representative is the person who administers your estate and makes the necessary decisions.
The surviving spouse always retains the right to administer the community property. Beyond that, a judge will simply have to guess as to which person would be appropriate to administer your affairs. Sometimes, families fight over these issues, creating both bad family relationships and dramatically increasing the costs of distributing your assets
Without a Will: You cannot choose who will administer your estate.
A benefit of a Will: It lets you choose who will be in charge of your estate.
A Will enables you to give your domestic partner a distribution from your estate, and to allow your partner to administer your estate. If you are gay, or in an unmarried heterosexual relationship, your relationship is not given the same legal recognitions and protections as if you were a married heterosexual. So you need to prepare a Will in order to create those protections.
Without a Will: Your domestic partner will have few, if any, legal rights upon your death.
A benefit of a Will: People who are in gay or unmarried heterosexual relationships have a greater need to prepare a Will since it gives them legal protections and rights.
If you have minor children, a Will allows you to nominate a Guardian for them in case both parents die. It also allows you to create a trust for them, so your assets will be distributed to them in the way that you choose. You can spread out the distributions over time, allow special distributions for educational purposes, etc. Otherwise, your children will likely receive those assets in a lump sum once they turn eighteen.
Without a Will: It is difficult to nominate a Guardian to care for your children upon death; and to designate how your assets will be distributed to your children.
A benefit of a Will: It’s a responsible step when you have children, so you can nominate a Guardian and choose how your assets will be distributed to them.