Under Washington State law, your descendants (aka your children) are considered your heirs, but your heirs do not have to be your descendants. If you die without a will, Washington law requires your assets to be given to certain members of your family, if they are alive at the time of your death. Generally speaking your assets would go to your spouse, then your children, then to your parents if you have no spouse or children at your death, or to your siblings or other close biological relatives if your parents also do not survive you. This is called the right of ‘intestate succession’. But this does not mean that your children are always entitled to inherit from your estate, you can choose to leave them nothing, as long as you do so explicitly through your will. It is also important that intestate succession does not necessarily treat all children equally so it is important to consider a written Will for your children’s benefit rather than relying solely on the right of inheritance if not all of your children share the same biological parents.
With a written will, you can control what you leave to your descendants, provided you name them. In your will you can determine how much of your estate goes to your child, specific gifts or items that go to specific people, when your kids should receive their share of the estate, and you can even specifically state that you are leaving nothing. Washington has an ‘omitted child’ law which prevents children from not receiving inheritance due to unintentional omission. In order to get around this protection and disinherit your children the law requires you to specifically name any biological or adopted children who is being disinherited. Under the law of Washington your biological or adopted children have the right to challenge a will if they are omitted, step-children do not have this avenue of redress if they are left out.
A lawfully adopted child is not considered an “heir” of their biological parents. An adopted person is for all intents and purposes a legal heir, and lawful child of their adoptive parents entitled to all rights and privileges, including the right of intestate succession and inheritance. If the will of a deceased parent fails to name or provide for their child who was adopted, the child must receive an amount equal in value to that which the child would have received if the decedent had died intestate.
Under the right of intestate succession step children are not considered descendants. However if you pass away first and your spouse inherits from you, your step children could inherit part or all of your estate through your spouse. Without a will a spouse is automatically granted all of the couple’s community property and half to all of your separate property depending on what of your blood relatives survive you. The only time that a stepchild can claim a stepparent’s estate through intestate succession is when the second parent dies without heirs or a will.
While under Washington Law your children are entitled to be named in your will, they are not entitled to be heirs under your will. Without a will you have much less control over the inheritance due to your children. Limitless Law PLLC is here to help if you have any questions about your estate planning options. Give us a call at 360-685-0145 to see how we can help craft an estate plan or will that is customized to accomplish your goals.