The Grave Consequences: Understanding the Disadvantages of Dying Without a Will in DC

Learn about the disadvantages of dying without a will in Washington, DC, and how it impacts your loved ones. Call Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, for more information.


What Is a Will and Why Is It So Important?

Everyone, sooner or later, will face death. For some, the thought of dying and facing the unknown is scary. For others, death is a welcome relief. Death, however, can come unexpectedly, and these unexpected deaths do not only bring grief to the loved ones left behind. For those with assets, they can be a source of a much bigger problem for bereaved family members.

A last will is an essential part of an estate plan, which is best done with the help of an estate planning attorney. While no single document can resolve all matters after a death, it can be close to doing so.

A will is a legally binding document that enables people to state their intentions about how they want their property and assets to be distributed when they die. It can also contain directions on who will care for the dependents and minor children left by the deceased.

Upon the death of a person without a valid will, the District of Columbia law of intestacy determines who will inherit the estate based on the deceased’s relationship with them. It can also provide instructions for the care and custody of minor children.

We will discuss what will happen if a person dies without a valid last will and testament in Washington, DC, its financial implications, and how it will affect the deceased’s family members.

The Legal Maze: What Happens When You Die Without a Will

The intestacy laws of DC govern the disposition of estates in the event someone dies without a valid will.

Regarding who receives what during an intestate succession, it depends on whether the deceased has surviving parents, children, or other close relatives. If the deceased is married, how much the spouse inherits depends on whether the deceased has surviving descendants and parents.

Here’s how it works:

  • If the deceased has children but has no surviving spouse, the children will inherit everything the deceased has left behind.

  • If the deceased has a spouse but has no surviving descendants or parents, the spouse inherits everything.

  • If the deceased has a spouse and descendants with that spouse, and said spouse has no descendants with another person, the spouse will inherit two-thirds of the intestate property. The remaining one-third will be divided among the surviving descendants.

  • Should the spouse have children with another person, the spouse gets one-half of the intestate property. The remaining half will be divided among the deceased’s descendants.

  • If the deceased has a spouse, descendants with that spouse, and descendants with another, the spouse inherits half of the intestate property. The rest will be inherited by the descendants of the deceased.

  • If the deceased has a spouse and parents, three-fourths of the intestate property will go to the wife, and one-fourth will go to the deceased’s parents.

  • If the deceased has no spouse and descendants but has parents, the parents will inherit everything.

  • If the deceased has no spouse, descendants, or parents but has living siblings, the deceased’s siblings will inherit the intestate property.

The probate court will assign a personal representative (administrator) of an estate in the absence of a valid will. This administrator will be the estate’s executor, handling all legal claims and paying off the remaining debts.

Financial Implications

Properties and assets that pass through the probate court will be subject to the intestate laws. Not all assets pass through probate. Some assets that are not affected by intestate laws include:

  • Life insurance with a named beneficiary

  • Properties transferred to a living trust

  • Funds in a retirement account with a named beneficiary

  • Bank accounts that are payable on death

  • Properties in joint tenancy

  • Real estate and vehicles with transfer on death deed or registration

Assets that also pass through the probate court are subject to estate tax. Estates worth more than $4.2 million will pay a DC estate tax. A federal estate tax must also be paid if the estate is more than $12.92 million.

Despite not being subject to probate, an asset is still subject to estate tax. Revocable living trusts are an example of this type of property. However, property and assets left to the surviving spouse, no matter the value, can be subtracted from the gross estate tax. Donations to charity and administration expenses can also be deducted from the gross estate.

A will can help reduce estate taxes and, at the same time, ensure that the wishes of the deceased are followed. A Washington, DC, probate lawyer at Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, can help with estate planning and drafting a last will and testament.

Emotional Toll on Loved Ones

When a loved one passes away, many families are left to cope with a great deal of stress and grief. Dying without a will and leaving your spouse or domestic partner and children with the estate left behind only adds to the burden.

Dying intestate can lead to family disputes and distress in a time of grief. When it comes to the distribution of properties and assets, they have to abide by the intestate succession. However, the division of properties is not the only thing that surviving family members have to deal with. In some cases, guardianship of the surviving heirs must also be decided.

Wills can include assigning a guardian to descendants who need care and supervision, such as young children and children with special needs. It is not right to simply assume that the closest relatives will take on the job as guardians. The relative who wishes to be the guardian of the surviving child has to request court approval to become a legal guardian. Of course, it can be avoided if there is a valid will that appoints the surviving children’s guardians.

Let Our Firm Help You Plan Your Estate and Secure Your Family’s Future.

At Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, we provide compassionate and personalized legal guidance to help you and your family cope with the loss of a loved one. We will work to ensure that your loved one’s wishes are honored and that your family is protected.

We can also help you create an estate plan tailored to your needs and objectives. Our team of experienced estate planning attorneys will take the time to understand you and provide you with the best legal advice to help you circumvent the probate process. Contact us today to get started.