What Happens If You Die Without a Will or Living Trust?

In Washington, if you die without a will or living trust, your estate will be distributed, but perhaps not in the manner you intended.

The first distribution after death is usually the payment of debts of your estate. Next, if you have certain accounts or assets that have designated beneficiaries, those assets will go to the named beneficiaries.  Accounts and assets with designated beneficiaries include the following:

  • Property which is transferred by a Washington community property agreement
  • Property held in joint tenancy
  • Trust proceeds
  • Life insurance
  • Employee benefits
  • Individual retirement accounts
  • Other types of property or contracts where a specific beneficiary other than a decedents’s estate has been designated.

Some of the beneficiaries of the above assets will share in the responsibility for payment of expenses of administration of the estate and claims of creditors of the estate.

Property which has not been disposed of by designated beneficiary will be in your probated estate.  If you die without a valid will (a condition known as dying “intestate”) the probate court will appoint an administrator to handle the distribution of your estate. The distribution will be by a court probate proceeding and according to the laws of descent and distribution.  The state’s distribution scheme may not be what you had in mind for your estate.

You can avoid confusion and survivors’ disappointment if you plan head.  You can decide now where you want your estate to go, and then make sure you have the documents in place to accomplish your wishes.  For most people, the best way to control the disposition of their estate is by a will, a revocable living trust, and/or a community property agreement.  The documents that will be most appropriate for you will depend on your individual circumstances.


This information is general in nature and should not be relied upon for your specific circumstances. For information, questions, or comments, please contact Douglas J. Engel or Kathryn S. Kumar.