District of Columbia
General DefinitionA decedent's intestate estate is defined as any part of the estate not effectively disposed of by a valid will.
Order of DistributionIf the decedent leaves a surviving spouse, then the spouse is entitled to the entire intestate estate, if no descendant or parent of the decedent survives the decedent. If the decedent's surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse and there is no other descendant of the surviving spouse who survives the decedent then the surviving spouse is entitled to two-thirds of any balance of the intestate estate. If no descendant survives the decedent, but a parent of the decedent survives, then the surviving spouse will receive three-fourths of the intestate estate. The surviving spouse will receive one-half of the intestate estate if all of the decedent's surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse and the surviving spouse has one or more surviving descendants who are not descendants of the decedent. Finally, the surviving spouse receives one-half of the intestate estate if one or more of the decedent's surviving descendants are not descendants of the surviving spouse. Sec. 19-302.
If children are the only surviving descendants, they share equally in the intestate portion of the estate. Sec. 19-306. If only children and grandchildren survive, the children take equally and the grandchildren divide the share that otherwise would have passed to their parents. Sec. 19-307.
When a decedent passes away and leaves no surviving spouse, surviving domestic partner, or relative within the fifth degree, the estate escheats to the District of Columbia. The value of the estate must be used by the Mayor of D.C. for the benefit of the poor. Sec. 19-701.
Common Law or Community PropertyThe District of Columbia is a common law, family allowance district.
CapacityThe testator of a valid will must be at least 18 years of age and be of "sound and disposing mind and capable of executing a valid deed or contract." Sec. 18-102.
DraftingEvery will must be in writing signed by the testator or by another person in the presence of the testator and by his or her express direction. In addition, the will must be signed by at least two persons each of whom signed the will in the testator's presence. Sec. 18-103.
BeneficiariesA beneficiary is any person entitled to legal title to assets by law under the provisions of a will or codicil, by a right of election, in settlement of a will contest or by mutual distribution.
ModificationsA will or codicil cannot be revoked in any other manner except by the creation of a later will or codicil, burning, tearing, canceling, or obliterating the will or codicil, or the part thereof, with the intention of revoking it, by the testator himself, or by a person in his presence and by his express direction and consent. Sec. 18-109.
There are two forms of administration of an estate in the District: supervised and unsupervised administration. Unsupervised administration differs from supervised administration only in that the personal representative is not required to file any inventories or accounts with the Court and, in general, is subject only to any order of the Court made upon a failure to satisfy filing requirements. Sec. 20-401.
Naming of Personal RepresentativeAfter a submission of the will or intestate estate, the court will appoint a personal representative of the decedent's estate. The court will name a representative from the following order:
- The personal representative named in the will;
- The surviving spouse, domestic partner or children of an intestate decedent or the surviving spouse or domestic partner of a testate decedent;
- The residuary legatees;
- The children of a testate decedent;
- The grandchildren of the decedent;
- The parents of the decedent;
- The brothers and sisters of the decedent;
- The next of kin of the decedent;
- Other relations of the decedent;
- The largest creditor of the decedent who applies for administration;
- Any other person. Sec. 20-303(a)(1).
The personal representative must be at least 18 years of age, free of mental illness, not convicted of a felony, a citizen or lawful resident of the United States and not a District of Columbia or federal judge. Sec. 20-303(b).
Submission of WillIn the District of Columbia, a will is ineffective unless it is admitted to probate or recorded. Sec. 20-302(a) and (b).
NotificationsWithin 20 days after the personal representative has been appointed by the court, he/she must publish notice of the appointment in a newspaper of general circulation in the District. The notice must run once a week for three consecutive weeks. This notice must include the address of the personal representative, state whether administration is supervised or unsupervised and notify creditors of the estate to present their claims. Sec. 20-704(a).
In addition to publication in the newspaper, the personal representative must provide notice by registered or certified mail to the heirs and creditors of the decedent. The heirs and creditors must receive the text of the newspaper notice and the following general information in a form developed by the court:
- the duties of the personal representative and the steps of estate administration;
- how the fees for estate administration are determined;
- the rights of heirs and the role of the register; and
- if the personal representative is not subject to continuing court supervision, the right of any interested person, on petition to the court duly presented and filed with the register, to initiate a proceeding involving notice to interested persons and a hearing to impose court supervision on the estate, or to seek any other court order necessary for protection of rights of the interested person. Sec. 20-704(b).
InventoryThe personal representative must, within three months of appointment, prepare an inventory of property owned by the decedent at the time of his/her death. The inventory must list each item of property and indicate its fair market value. The inventory must list any encumbrances on each item. The inventory must list any and all real property, tangible personal property (excluding clothing, jewelry, food, pictures and/or family Bibles), securities, debts owed to and by the decedent, bank accounts or cash in hand. Sec. 20-711. Different appraisal requirements apply to supervised (Sec. 20-712) and unsupervised estates (Sec. 20-713.01).
Homestead Allowance, Exempt Property, the Family Share and the Legal ShareA decedent's surviving spouse is entitled to a homestead allowance of $15,000. If there is no surviving spouse, each surviving minor child and each surviving dependent child of the decedent is entitled to a homestead allowance amounting to $15,000 divided by the number of surviving minor and dependent children. The homestead allowance is exempt from and has priority over, all claims against the estate. The homestead allowance is in addition to any share passing to the surviving spouse or surviving minor or dependent child by the will of the decedent, unless otherwise provided by intestate succession, or by way of elective share. Sec. 19-101.02.
The decedent's surviving spouse is entitled to a value, not to exceed $10,000, in household furniture, automobiles, furnishings, appliances and personal effects. If there is no surviving spouse, the decedent's surviving children are entitled to jointly the same value. Rights to exempt property have priority over all claims against the estate, except the homestead allowance and the family allowance. These rights are in addition to any benefit or share passing to the surviving spouse or surviving children by the decedent's will, unless otherwise provided by intestate succession or by way of elective share. Sec. 19-101.03.
In addition to the right to homestead allowance and exempt property, the decedent's surviving spouse and minor children whom the decedent was obligated to support and children who are entitled to a reasonable allowance in money out of the estate for their maintenance during the period of estate administration. It is payable to the surviving spouse for the use of the surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner and the decedent's surviving minor and dependent children. If the decedent leaves no surviving spouse, then the amount if left to the children, or persons having custody of them. If a minor child or dependent child is not living with the surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner, the allowance may be made partially to the child or his or her guardian, or other person having the child's care and custody, and partially to the spouse or domestic partner, as their needs may appear. Sec. 19-101.04(a).
The surviving spouse or domestic partner is entitled to a "legal share" of the decedent's estate. The legal share is the amount of the estate the surviving spouse would have taken if the decedent had died intestate. (See "Order of Distribution" above.) By taking the legal share, the surviving spouse disclaims any interest passing to him/her by virtue of the decedent's will. To be a valid disclaimer, the surviving spouse must disclaim her/her interest within six months of the decedent's will being submitted to probate. Sec. 19-113.
Debts and DistributionsA creditor must present his/her claim against the estate within six months after notification was published as required. Sec. 20-903. A claim must be submitted in writing to the personal representative. The claim must include the name and address of the claimant, the basis for the claim, the amount of the claim, date when the claim became or will become due and whether or not the claim is secured by property. Sec. 20-905(a)- (b).
The personal representative must, no later than eight months from the date of publication of notice, pay the claims allowed against the estate in the order of priority listed below. Any valid claim unpaid after eight months may be submitted to the Court for a demand of payment. Sec. 20-909.
If the decedent's assets remaining at death are insufficient to pay all claims in full, the personal representative must make payments in the following order:
- Court costs, publication costs and bond premiums;
- Funeral expenses, not to exceed $1,500;
- Fiduciary and attorney's fees, not to exceed $1,000;
- The homestead allowance and the family allowance;
- Exempt property;
- Reasonable and necessary medical expenses of the last illness of the decedent, (this may include compensation of persons attending the decedent);
- Claims for rent for which an attachment might be levied by law;
- Judgment and decrees of courts in the District of Columbia; and
- All other just claims. Sec. 20-906(a).
After all claims have been paid and debts collected, the personal representative shall distribute the remaining assets of the estate according to the provisions of the decedent's will and/or trust. Sec. 18-301. Any property not disposed of by will or other means passes by intestate succession as outline above.
In 2020, residents will pay estate tax if their estate is greater than $5,762,400. In 2021, resident will pay estate tax if their estate is greater than $4 million. Above that amount, the estate tax is a graduated tax with a top rate of 16%. Sec. 47-3702.
Income Tax Charitable Deductions and/or Credits
Effective January 1, 2018, the DC Estate Tax Exemption is 4.25 million, with indexed increases for inflation Sec. 47-3701(14)(c).
Gift Annuity Requirements
The law in the District of Columbia, a "silent" district, does not specifically address charitable gift annuities.