If you die without a will in Kentucky, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Kentucky.
Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Many valuable assets don't go through probate, and therefore aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:
These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will. However, if you don't have a will and none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property, then the property could end up being transferred according to intestate succession.
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 and descendants||spouse inherits 1/2 of your personal property, 1/3 of your real property to use during his or her life, and 1/2 of your real property to sell or give away
descendants inherit 1/2 of your personal property and the remainder of your real property
|spouse and parents, but no descendants||spouse inherits 1/2 of your personal property, 1/3 of your real property to use during his or her life, and 1/2 of your real property to sell or give away
parents inherit 1/2 of your personal property and the remainder of your real property
|spouse and siblings, but no descendants or parents||spouse inherits 1/2 of your personal property, 1/3 of your real property to use during his or her life, and 1/2 of your real property to sell or give away
siblings inherit 1/2 of your personal property and the remainder of your real property
|parents but no spouse or descendants||parents inherit everything|
|siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents||siblings inherit everything|
In Kentucky, if you die without a will, your spouse will inherit property from you under a law called "dower and curtesy." Usually, this means that your spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property. The rest of your property passes to your descendants, parents, or siblings. If you don't have descendants, parents, or siblings, then your spouse inherits everything.
The rules of dower and curtesy, when combined with intestate succession laws, can quickly become complicated. Following is a simple example of how they might work.
Example: Paul and Joan were married for seven years, and Paul has two children from a previous marriage. Paul and Joan own a house in joint tenancy. Paul also owns a substantial amount of personal property, including some very valuable antiques. When Paul dies without a will, the house passes automatically to Joan, because it is not intestate property. In addition, Joan inherits 1/2 of Paul's personal property under the rules of dower and curtesy. The remaining 1/2 of Paul's personal property passes to his kids.
If you have any concerns about this area of the law, see an experienced attorney for help.
If you die without a will in Kentucky, 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 above.)
For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of Kentucky 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.
If you want to read the law, Kentucky Statutes § § 391.070, 391.100, and 391.105 cover parent-child relationships. You can search the Kentucky Statutes by visiting the website of the Kentucky Legislature.
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 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, siblings, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, nieces or nephews, cousins of any degree, brothers or sisters of grandparents, or the children, parents, or siblings of a spouse who dies before you do.
Here are a few other things to know about Kentucky intestacy laws.
To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.
You can find Kentucky's dower and curtesy law in Section 392.020 of the Kentucky Statutes. Intestate succession laws are covered in Sections 391.010 to 391.170. You can search the Kentucky Statutes by visiting the website of the Kentucky Legislature.
For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of Nolo.com.