Your Guide to DC Intestate Succession



Estate planning is an important task that is often overlooked. If you need help with D.C. Intestate Succession, call Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, P.L.L.C.


What Is Intestate Succession?

If a person dies intestate, they die without making a valid last will and testament. Intestate succession is the process by which the estate assets left behind are shared among heirs of the deceased according to state law.

Intestate succession laws exist in every state in the United States of America and the District of Columbia. These laws ensure that the property is shared peacefully and fairly between those with the right to inherit. The law also decides who has this right based on their relationship with the deceased.

Even if a person has property or assets in several states, the court will generally open a probate case in the location where they were domiciled, i.e., where their primary residence or home is. However, probate courts in other states may have jurisdiction over the personal property the deceased person had there.

If your relative died intestate, or you do not have a will and are worried about dying intestate in Washington DC, you should understand how DC intestate succession laws work. You may also consider hiring a professional estate planning attorney as soon as possible to keep your loved ones out of court and prevent possible conflict.

How Does Intestate Succession Work in the District of Columbia?

The probate court in DC oversees the succession process, whether the decedent dies with a will or without one. The process starts when an interested party files a probate petition with the court. This is a request for the court to open the probate estate, appoint a personal representative, and distribute the property accordingly.

DC Code § 20–304 outlines all the information that a probate petition must contain to be validly considered by the court. If the petition is accepted, the court appoints an administrator for the decedent’s estate. With intestate succession, the surviving spouse (if any) is usually the first to be considered for the role of the personal representative. DC Code § 20–303 lists the order of priority for individuals who could be appointed as personal representatives.


Will DC Get Your Property?


In rare cases where a decedent has no surviving spouse, descendant, or known family, ownership of their estate is transferred to the state by a principle known as “escheat.” However, this seldom happens because the law operates in a way that even remote relatives are given preference over the state.

How Are Assets Shared Under DC’s Intestate Succession Law?

The primary heirs of a deceased’s estate are the decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner and the surviving descendants.

Surviving Spouse or Domestic Partner (Defined under DC Code § 32–701 (3))

  • Where the decedent dies, leaving behind a spouse or domestic partner without descendants or surviving parents, the spouse inherits the entire estate.
  • Where there is a spouse and surviving parents but no descendants, 3/4 of the estate goes to the spouse, and 1/4 goes to the parents.
  • With a spouse and descendants, where the spouse has no descendants from previous relationships, the spouse inherits 2/3 while the descendants inherit the rest.
  • Where there is a spouse and descendants, but the spouse has descendants from other relationships, the spouse gets half of the estate, and the deceased’s children inherit the other half.

Surviving Children

Children’s shares are determined by whether there is a surviving domestic partner or spouse, how many children there are, whether the law recognizes them as the children of the deceased, and a few other things. Below are a few rules guiding children’s inheritance:

  • Adopted children inherit in the same proportion as biological children.
  • With no surviving spouse, children inherit the entire probate estate of the deceased parent.
  • Foster or step-children whom the decedent did not legally adopt generally have no share of the inheritance.
  • Children born after the deceased’s death but conceived by them, i.e., posthumous children, are entitled to an inheritance.
  • Grandchildren can inherit on behalf of their parents where the decedent has a deceased child.

Where there is neither a surviving spouse nor domestic partner nor children, surviving parents inherit the property and share equally. In their absence, surviving siblings and their descendants inherit the property.

Which Assets Are Not Transferred by Intestate Succession?

Not all of the decedent’s assets are probate assets. Some assets cannot be inherited under DC’s intestate succession laws, as they already have named beneficiaries appointed by the decedent before their death. Some of them include the following:

  • Property held in a living trust.
  • Payable on death bank accounts.
  • Securities, real estate, or other assets like vehicles with transfer-on-death designation and named beneficiaries.
  • Life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary.
  • Property owned in joint tenancy.
  • Individual Retirement Account, 401 (k), or other retirement funds with a named beneficiary.

If the designated beneficiaries of these assets are deceased, they could end up as probate assets to be inherited according to DC intestacy laws.

Other Rules for Intestate Succession in DC?

Other important things to note about DC intestate succession include the following rules:

Survivorship Period

Subject to a few exceptions, DC law provides that a person must have survived the decedent by more than 120 hours for inheritance.


LGBTQ+ Couples

Same-sex marriages are recognized in DC. As such, LGBTQ+ couples have the same rights and legal recognition as heterosexual couples in intestate succession. However, such couples may face unique issues owing to their circumstances. Therefore, it is a good idea to consult an attorney with experience and understanding in dealing with estate planning issues For LGBTQ+ couples.


Half Relatives

DC laws make no distinction between whole and half-relatives for intestate succession.


Bars to Inheritance

A person who feloniously caused someone’s death cannot inherit or claim an interest in the deceased’s estate according to DC Code § 19–320.

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will and Has No Heirs or Beneficiaries?

In cases where a person dies without a will and has no known heirs or beneficiaries, their estate is considered “intestate.” This means that the state of DC becomes the ultimate beneficiary of the decedent’s assets through a process called “escheat.”

Escheat rarely occurs because the law prioritizes even distant relatives over the state. However, if there are no known relatives, the state gains ownership of the decedent’s assets. Suppose you have concerns about escheat or believe that you may be entitled to inherit money from a relative who has died without a will. In that case, it is advisable to consult an attorney with knowledge and experience in DC estate laws.

How Long Does Intestate Succession Take?

The time taken for an intestate succession mostly depends on the size of the estate. It may take many months or even a year to finish and close a large probate estate’s administration. It may especially be complicated when the decedent was a business owner with many accounts to settle and creditors to pay. If you are involved in business, consider consulting a knowledgeable attorney to help you create the perfect estate plan for business owners before it is too late.

In addition, the amount of taxes due on an intestate estate can be considerable. It is essential for those who may have filed a petition for probate to consult with an experienced attorney regarding tax filing obligations and any potential estate taxes that may be due. Knowing the tax obligations of an estate can help avoid potential legal issues in the future.

Before initiating a probate proceeding, it is important to notify all the interested parties to give them a fair chance to object to any proposed actions. This includes notifying any other descendants of the decedent who may be entitled to a share in the inheritance, even if they are not recognized by law.

How We Can Help


Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, is a dedicated and friendly estate planning law firm. We want to help you set your loved ones up for success and avoid the headache of the intestate succession process. Transferring ownership of your home to your child should be an easy thing to do, and we can help you achieve that.

We pride ourselves on devising tailor-made solutions for our client’s unique situations. We provide legal guidance and support to enable you to make informed decisions and help you understand exactly how these decisions affect the future of your loved ones.

Contact us today and discover how we can help you!