Intestate Succession in Washington

What happens if you die without a will? Learn about intestacy in Washington.

Updated by , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

If you die without a will in Washington, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Washington.

Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession

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:

  • property you've transferred to a living trust
  • life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary
  • funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account with a named beneficiary
  • securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • real estate for which you have a transfer on death deed
  • vehicles for which you have a transfer on death registration
  • payable-on-death bank accounts, 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. 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.

To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid Probate section of or read about Avoiding Probate in Washington.

Who Gets What in Washington?

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 children, parents, or siblings spouse inherits everything
parents but no children or spouse parents inherit everything
siblings but no children, spouse, or parents siblings inherit everything
a spouse and children spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/2 of your separate property

children inherit 1/2 of your separate property
a spouse and parents spouse inherits all of your community property and 3/4 of your separate property

parents inherit 1/4 of your separate property
a spouse and siblings, but no parents spouse inherits all of your community property and 3/4 of your separate property

siblings inherit 1/4 of your separate property

(Wash. Rev. Code § 11.04.015 (2023).)

The Spouse's Share in Washington

In Washington, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends in part on how the two of you owned your property -- as separate property or community property. Generally, community property is property acquired while you were married, and separate property is property you acquired before marriage. There are a couple of big exceptions: Gifts and inheritances given to one spouse are separate property, even if acquired during marriage.

If you want to learn more about how community property works, read Separate and Community Property During Marriage: Who Owns What?

You can find Washington's community property laws here: Wash. Rev. Code §§ 26.16.010 to 26.16.250.

Your spouse will inherit your half of the community property. If you have separate property (many spouses mix everything together and don't have any separate property) your spouse will inherit all or a portion of it. The size of your spouse's share of your separate property depends on whether or not you have living parents, children, or siblings. If you do, they and your spouse will share your separate property according to the rules in the chart above.

In Washington, the rules for married people also apply to registered domestic partners.

Children's Shares in Washington

If you die without a will in Washington, 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 Washington 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. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 11.02.005, 26.33.260 (2023).)
  • 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 from you. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.04.085 (2023).)
  • Posthumous children. Children conceived by you but not born before your death will receive a share. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.02.005 (2023).)
  • Children born outside of marriage. If you were not married or in a registered domestic partnership with your child's mother when she gave birth, the child may receive a share of your estate if you acknowledge paternity, adopt the child, or your paternity is established under Washington law. (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.26A.100 (2023).)
  • Children born during your marriage. Any child born to your wife or registered domestic partner during your marriage or partnership is assumed to be your child and will receive a share of your estate. (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.26A.115 (2023).)
  • 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. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.04.015 (2023).)

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 Washington Code 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. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 11.08.140; 11.08.150 (2023).)

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, aunts, uncles, or cousins.

Other Washington Intestate Succession Rules

Here are a few other things to know about Washington intestacy laws.

  • Survivorship period. To inherit under Washington'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. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.05A.020 (2023).)
  • Half-relatives. "Half" relatives usually 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. However, there is an exception for property inherited from your ancestors, which must stay in the blood family according to Washington law. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.04.035 (2023).)
  • 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.
  • Slayer and abuser rule. Someone who willfully and unlawfully kills you or financially abuses you will not receive a share of your property. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.84.020 (2023).)
  • Advancements. If you gave a relative property during your lifetime, the value of this property can be subtracted from your relative's share if it is proven to be an advancement and not a gift. (Wash. Rev. Code § 11.04.041 (2023).)

Learn More

To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.

You can find Washington's intestate succession law in Title 11 of the Washington Revised Code.

For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of

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