Who Are Descendant’s “Heirs & Beneficiaries” ?

  1. The Law
  2. The Heirs
  3. The Estate’s Legatees and Devisees (also known as the Beneficiaries)
  4. The Beneficiaries or Transferees of Descendant’s Nonprobate Assets

A.  The Law

RCW 11.28.237(1) provides in pertinent part as follows:

(1) Within twenty days after appointment, the personal representative of the estate of a Descendant shall cause written notice of his or her appointment and the pendency of said probate proceedings, to be served personally or by mail to each heir, legatee and devisee of the estate and each beneficiary or transferee of a nonprobate asset of the Descendant whose names and addresses are known to him or her, ….

Bottom-line: You are required to send notice of your appointment to:

  1. Each heir of Descendant regardless of whether Descendant died testate or intestate (technically, an “heir” is a taker by inheritance, ie, by intestate succession);
  2. Each legatee of the estate (technically, a “legatee” is a taker of personal property under the Will);
  3. Each devisee of the estate (technically, a “devisee” is a taker of real property under the Will); and
  4. Each beneficiary or transferee of each of Descendant’s nonprobate assets.

Descendant’s Heirs

The “Heirs” are those individuals who would take the estate if the Descendant had died intestate.  (Even if Descendant died leaving a Will, the heirs are entitled to notice so that they may file a Will Contest and attempt to invalidate the Will, conceivably allowing Descendant’s property to pass to them after all.  A person has four months after the date that a Will is admitted to probate to do so.  RCW 11.24.010)  To determine the identity of the heirs and what each takes, see: Descendant’s Heirs.

Caution: Determining the identity of a Descendant’s heirs, especially in a large, extended family, can be complicated, for example:

  1. Going up one level of kinship & then down — If the Descendant:
    1. Is not survived by children (or lower issue) but
    2. Is survived by one or more:
      1. Parents or
      2. Their children (or lower issue) (ie, siblings — Descendant’s brothers or sisters, nephews or nieces, etc.); or
  2. Going down more than one level of kinship — If the Descendant is survived by:
    1. Multiple generations, and
    2. One or more of the Descendant’s children have predeceased leaving children of their own who have survived the Descendant.

*** CAUTION ***: Throughout the process of determining the identity of a Descendant’s heirs, the traditional but often overlooked legal principle known as the “right of representation” must be applied assiduously.  According to the right of representation, the surviving issue of a predeceased “heir” (one who would have been an heir had they not predeceased) stand in the shoes of that predeceased “heir” and take whatever he/she would have taken.  See: Becoming an Heir by Right of Representation.

The Estate’s Legatees and Devisees (also known as the Beneficiaries)

The “Legatees and Devisees” are those individuals and organizations who would take the estate according to the terms of Descendant’s Will had he/she died testate.  If Descendant died intestate (or if Descendant did die testate, but all the named legatees and devisees are then dead), there are no “Legatees and Devisees” — only “Heirs.”

Historically, Legatees are the takers of personal property (including money), and Devisees are the takers of real property.  Most people combine (as this website does) the two categories and call those who take under Descendant’s Will “Beneficiaries.”  To determine the identity of the Beneficiaries and what each takes, see: Descendant’s Beneficiaries.

The Beneficiaries or Transferees of Descendant’s Nonprobate Assets

The “Beneficiaries or Transferees of Descendant’s Nonprobate Assets” are those individuals and organizations who take any of Descendant’s nonprobate assets, for example:

  • Surviving joint tenants;
  • Surviving takers under a Community Property Agreement;
  • Designated beneficiaries of Descendant’s payable on death (“POD”) to (or “in trust for”) bank accounts;
  • Designated beneficiaries of Descendant’s transferable on death (“TOD”) to securities;
  • Designated beneficiaries of Descendant’s life insurance policies on his/her life;
  • Designated beneficiaries of Descendant’s IRA or Keogh Plan; and
  • Successor beneficiaries of Descendant’s Revocable Living Trust (Recommendation: Include notice to the Trustee).