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 account
- securities held in a transfer-on-death account
- payable-on-death bank accounts
- vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration, or
- 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 inherit everything
- spouse but no descendants
- spouse inherits everything
- spouse and descendants from you and that spouse
- 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 parents
- 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 property.
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 above.)
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.
- Adopted children. Children you legally adopted will receive an intestate share, just as your biological children do. (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15A, § 1-104.)
- Foster children and stepchildren. Foster children and stepchildren you never legally adopted will not automatically receive a share.
- Children 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.)
- Posthumous 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.)
- Children 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.)
- Grandchildren. A grandchild will receive a share only if that grandchild's parent (your son or daughter) is not alive to receive his or her share.
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, nieces, nephews, or cousins.
Other Vermont Intestate Succession Rules
Here are a few other things to know about Vermont intestacy laws.
- Survivorship 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. “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.)
- Posthumous 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.)
- Immigration status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States.
- Someone 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.
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