First, a surviving spouse has rights to certain allowances under D.C. law. These get paid off the top regardless of whether there is a valid Will or not.
Second, after those allowances are paid, the estate is distributed in accordance with the following rules if the deceased person did not have a valid Last Will and Testament or Trust:
- If the deceased is survived by spouse, children (or grandchildren if one of the children has predeceased) and parents → Spouse takes 2/3 and children split 1/3 (with grandchildren of deceased child sharing in share of his or her deceased parent in equal shares). Surviving parents inherit nothing in D.C. in this situation.
- If the deceased is survived by a spouse but no children or grandchildren (of a predeceased child) → Surviving spouse inherits the entire estate.
- If the deceased is survived by children (but no spouse) then surviving children inherit in equal shares. If any child is deceased but survived by issue (grandchildren of decedent), then grandchildren inherit share of deceased child, per stirpes (i.e., in equal shares).
- If no spouse or children or grandchildren survive the decedent → The whole estate is divided equally between the father or mother or the survivor of them.
- If no spouse and no parents and no children survive the decedent → Siblings (or descendants of a predeceased sibling) are entitled to the estate. The share of a predeceased sibling with descendants is divided equally among those descendants at the same level.
- If no spouse, no children, no descendants of children, no parents, no siblings survive the decedent → “All collateral relations in equal degree share in the estate.” (This is too complicated to explain further here.)
- The surviving grandparents of a decedent inherit only if no “collaterals” survive.
- Posthumous children only inherit under certain circumstances outlined in D.C. law.
- There is no distinction between whole and half-blood and stepchildren (and thus a stepchild may inherit from a stepparent who dies without a Last Will and Testament or trust).
- Children born out of wedlock must establish parentage in accordance with D.C. law. (Again, this is too complicated to explain how this is done.)
Learn more about District of Columbia probate law.