If you die without a will in Vermont, your assets will go to
your closest relatives under state “intestate succession” laws. Here are some details
about how intestate succession works in Vermont.
Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession
Only assets that would have passed through your will are
affected by intestate succession laws. Usually, that includes only assets that
you own alone, in your own name.
Many valuable assets don’t go through your will, and aren’t
affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:
- property you’ve transferred to a living trust
- life insurance proceeds
- funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement
- securities held in a transfer-on-death account
- payable-on-death bank accounts
- vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration,
- property you own with someone else in joint
tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.
These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary
you named, whether or not you have a will.
To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid
Probate section of Nolo.com or read about Avoiding
Probate in Vermont.
Who Gets What in Vermont?
Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether
or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you
die. Here’s a quick overview:
|If you die with:
||here’s what happens:
children but no spouse
children inherit everything
spouse but no descendants
spouse inherits everything
spouse and descendants from you and that
spouse inherits everything
spouse and at least one descendant from you
and someone other than that spouse
spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate
property; the spouse can ask the court for all household goods, and there are
special rules that allow the spouse to take ownership of a vessel,
snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle
descendants inherit everything else
parents but no spouse or descendants
parents inherit everything
siblings but no spouse, descendants, or
siblings inherit everything
The Spouse’s Share in Vermont
In Vermont, if you are married and you die without a will,
what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants -- that
is, children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren -- from a previous
relationship. If you don’t, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate
property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property.
In most situations, your surviving spouse and your children
from the previous relationship will split your property 50/50. However, there
are a few unique rules to keep in mind:
- Your spouse can petition the probate court to
take ownership of your household goods, such as furnishings. The court will
grant the spouse’s request unless any of your descendants object, in which case
the court will determine who gets what. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 312.)
- If your estate consists primarily of a vessel,
snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle, your spouse will inherit it. (Vt. Stat.
Ann. tit. 14, § 313.)
Example: Jed and
Barrett have been married for 30 years and have two grown children. Jed also
has a grown daughter, Anna, from a previous marriage. Jed and Barrett own a
house in joint tenancy, and Jed owns $400,000 worth of additional, separate
property that would have passed under a will if he had made one. When Jed dies,
Barrett inherits the house outright (it is not intestate property) plus
$200,000 worth of Jed’s intestate property. Because Anna doesn’t object, Barrett’s
inheritance includes all the furnishings in the house, except for a few items
that she offers to Anna. Anna inherits the remaining $200,000 share of Jed’s intestate
Children’s Shares in Vermont
If you die without a will in Vermont, your children will
receive an “intestate share” of your property. The size of each child’s share depends
on how many children you have and whether or not you are married. (See the table
For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy,
the state of Vermont must consider them your children, legally. For many families,
this is not a confusing issue. But it’s not always clear. Here are some things
to keep in mind.
children. Children you legally adopted will receive an intestate share,
just as your biological children do. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15A, § 1-104.)
children and stepchildren. Foster children and stepchildren you never
legally adopted will not automatically receive a share.
placed for adoption. Children you placed for adoption and who were legally
adopted by another family will not receive a share. However, if your biological
children were adopted by your spouse, that won’t affect their intestate
inheritance. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15A, § § 1-105, 4-102.)
children. Children conceived by you but not born before your death will
receive a share if they survive at least 120 hours after birth. (Vt. Stat. Ann.
tit. 14, § 303.)
born outside of marriage. If you were not married to your children’s mother
when she gave birth to them, they will receive a share of your estate if your
paternity is established under Vermont law. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 315.)
Your grandchildren will receive a share only if their parent (your child) has
died before you do.
This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have
questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an
experienced attorney. If you want to read the laws yourself, you’ll find a link
to the Vermont Statutes at the end of this article.
Will the State Get Your Property?
If you die without a will and don’t have any family, your
property will “escheat” into the state’s coffers. However, this very rarely
happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was
even remotely related to you. For example, your property won’t go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, neices, nephews, or cousins.
Other Vermont Intestate Succession Rules
Here are a few other things to know about Vermont intestacy
period. To inherit under Vermont’s intestate succession statutes, a person
must outlive you by 120 hours. So if you and your brother are in a car accident
and he dies a few hours after you do, his estate would not receive any of your
property. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 337.)
“Half” relatives inherit as if they were “whole.” That is, your sister with
whom you share a father, but not a mother, has the same right to your property as
she would if you had both parents in common. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 331.)
relatives. Relatives conceived before -- but born after -- you die inherit
as if they had been born while you were alive, as long as they survive at least
120 hours after birth. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 303.)
status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit
whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States.
who unlawfully kills you. If another person is criminally responsible for
your death, that person will not receive a share of your estate. (Vt. Stat.
Ann. tit. 14, § 322.)
To learn more about intestate succession, read How
an Estate Is Settled When There is No Will.
You can find Vermont’s intestate succession laws here: Vermont
Statutes Ann. Title 14, § § 301 to 338.
For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts
& Probate section of Nolo.com.
Need a lawyer? Search for an experienced estate planning
attorney with Nolo’s