Families come in all different shapes and sizes. As a result of divorce, remarriage, or separation, many of today’s Washingtonians have a family that consists of step-children, half siblings, or adopted children. While you may view all your children equally, the law will make a distinction between your biological and non-biological children in the event of your death. If you are considering a divorce or remarriage, make sure that your will and estate plan are updated to reflect your new situation.

Death Without A Will

No one likes to contemplate their own death. Unfortunately, this often leads to adults dying intestate, meaning without a will. Whether this is because a person died unexpectedly, or simply never got around to hiring an estate planning attorney, Washington state law will determine how a person’s assets and estate should be distributed.

While a divorce is pending, your ex-partner is still legally considered your spouse. This means that if you die while a divorce is pending, your spouse will be legally entitled to most of your estate. He or she will receive your half of the community property, and nearly all of your separate property even if the divorce is almost final. Only when your divorce has been finalized is your spouse is no longer entitled to share in your estate.

The rules of intestate succession dictate that when a person dies without a will, his or her spouse, and then biological children will inherit the estate. If the person did not remarry, then the children will split the estate. If the person did remarry, then most of the estate will pass to the new spouse.

For the purposes of intestate succession, adopted children are considered biological children and will share the estate of their deceased parent. However, step-children are not entitled to inherit from their deceased step-parent, meaning that more distant relatives will inherit the estate.

Because the rules of succession are fixed by law, many people with blended families should consider drafting a will which accurately reflect their wishes rather than relying on circumstance.

Death With a Will

When a person dies testate, or with a will, then that person’s wishes control who receives what. A person with a will can choose who will inherit which parts of their property and assets, and can change these determinations at their leisure.

Many people create their wills during their marriage in order to provide for their family. After a divorce, it is likely that the wishes reflected in that will are no longer accurate, which makes a visit to an estate planner an important step in the divorce process.

In addition, creating a will can ensure that all of your children, whether biological, adopted, or step, can share in your estate. Make sure that your will is updated every time your circumstances change in case the unthinkable happens.

Planning for a divorce requires attention to many different details. At Pacific Northwest Family Law PLLC, our attorneys have multiple techniques at their disposal to help divorcing couples split marital property in an equitable way, and achieve great successes using mediation, collaboration, and other dispute resolution methods.