WASHINGTON PROBATE LITIGATION

Protecting Your Rights as an Heir or Beneficiary

Seattle & King County | Tacoma & Pierce County

Everett & Snohomish County | All Washington

For Attorneys, Lawyers, & the Public

 

WA-Probate > Probate-Litigation > Entitlement to Decedent's Property

 

B.  Questions about Entitlement to Decedent's Property

  1. Am I Entitled to Any of Decedent's Property?

  2. Does My Being Decedent's Surviving Spouse or Child Automatically Entitle Me to Any of Decedent's Property?

  3. I Thought I Was Entitled to Receive Property from Decedent at Death, but Now Somebody (ie, His/Her Personal Representative, Bank, Insurance Company, Etc.) Is Telling Me I'm Not.  What Can I Do?

 

1.  Am I Entitled to Any of Decedent's Property?   

 

There are a variety of ways a person might become entitled to receive property from a Decedent as a result of his/her death.  Some examples (not at all inclusive):

  1. By contract directly with the Decedent during his/her life.  Some examples:
     

    1. During his/her life, Decedent became unable to take care of him/herself.  The two of you agreed that you would take care of him/her for the rest of his/her life in return for his/her giving you his/her home at his/her death.
       

    2. During Decedent's life, you wanted to buy Decedent's home.  Decedent sold you the home so long as he/she could live in it alone for the rest of his/her life, and at his/her death, you would then take possession of the home.
       

    3. You are Decedent's surviving spouse, and during his/her life, the two of you entered into a Community Property Agreement providing that itemized community property would pass to the survivor of the two of you.
       

  2. By being a third-party beneficiary of a contract Decedent made with another during his/her life.  Some examples:
     

    1. You are the named beneficiary of an insurance policy on Decedent's life, an IRA, or an employee benefit plan, all owned by Decedent.
       

    2. You are the named beneficiary of a payable-on-death bank account or a transferable-on-death securities account held by Decedent.
       

    3. You are a third-party beneficiary of a Community Property Agreement that Decedent and his/her spouse entered into during their joint lives, which Agreement provided that upon the death of the first spouse to die, itemized community property would pass to you.
       

  3. By being a surviving joint tenant of property held between Decedent and you (and possibly among other joint tenants).
     

  4. By being a beneficiary under Decedent's Will.  To learn more about the determination of beneficiaries under a Will, see A Beneficiary Under Decedent's Will.
     

  5. By being an heir of Decedent if Decedent:
     

    1. Died without a Will (ie, intestate) or
       

    2. Died with a Will (ie, testate) but:
       

      1. All his/her beneficiaries named in the Will have predeceased the Decedent; or
         

      2. The Will failed to dispose of all of his/her property.  For example, all the Will said regarding disposition of property is "I give $1 to the Red Cross."  If Decedent owned more than $1 at death, the balance of the estate will pass by intestate succession to Decedent's heirs.
         

    To learn more about the determination of heirs, see An Heir of Decedent.
     

  6. And by being a creditor of Decedent --- this is really just a more general example of category #1 above, which presumed that you had some kind of ongoing personal relationship with Decedent.  This category #6 could be as impersonal as your being Decedent's VISA card company.

 

2.  Does My Being Decedent's Surviving Spouse or Child Automatically Entitle Me to Any of Decedent's Property?   

 

The foregoing discussion illustrates that to be entitled to receive any of Decedent's property at his/her death, you must have some legal right to that property.  The only right among these rights that extends to persons based solely on their being a relative of Decedent is a relative's potential right as an heir.  But with few exceptions, Decedent may extinguish that right by Will.  So, for example, just because you are a relative of Decedent doesn't necessarily mean that you are entitled to any of his/her property at death.  Some examples:

Bottom-line:  If you believe that you may be entitled to receive property from a Decedent, especially if there is any question in your or another's mind about that entitlement, WASHINGTON PROBATE urges you to seek the advice of legal counsel in your locale.

 

 

3.  I Thought I Was Entitled to Receive Property from Decedent at Death, but Now Somebody (ie, His/Her Personal Representative, Bank, Insurance Company, Etc.) Is Telling Me I'm Not.  What Can I Do?   

 

Assuming that discussion and negotiation have proven futile, you need to promptly assert your legal right, generally by promptly filing a lawsuit against the relevant parties.  For example:

Bottom-line:  If you believe that you may be entitled to receive property from a Decedent, especially if someone in authority actively denies your entitlement or passively ignores it or your questions about it, WASHINGTON PROBATE urges you not only to seek the advice of legal counsel in your locale but to do so immediately so as not to lose whatever right you may have simply as a result of not asserting it on time.  For example, Washington law provides that many challenges to a Decedent's Will must be made within four months from the date the Will was admitted into probate.  RCW 11.24.010

 

 

Introduction

WASHINGTON PROBATE
Instructions & Forms


Probate Litigation
Site Map

Rights of Specific Individuals