Who Are Decedent’s “Heirs & Beneficiaries” ?
- The Law
- The Heirs
- The Estate’s Legatees and Devisees (also known as the Beneficiaries)
- The Beneficiaries or Transferees of Decedent’s Nonprobate Assets
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 Decedent 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 Decedent whose names and addresses are known to him or her, ….
Bottom-line: You are required to send notice of your appointment to:
- Each heir of Decedent regardless of whether Decedent died testate or intestate (technically, an “heir” is a taker by inheritance, ie, by intestate succession);
- Each legatee of the estate (technically, a “legatee” is a taker of personal property under the Will);
- Each devisee of the estate (technically, a “devisee” is a taker of real property under the Will); and
- Each beneficiary or transferee of each of Decedent’s nonprobate assets.
The “Heirs” are those individuals who would take the estate if the Decedent had died intestate. (Even if Decedent 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 Decedent’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: Decedent’s Heirs.
Caution: Determining the identity of a Decedent’s heirs, especially in a large, extended family, can be complicated, for example:
- Going up one level of kinship & then down — If the Decedent:
- Is not survived by children (or lower issue) but
- Is survived by one or more:
- Parents or
- Their children (or lower issue) (ie, siblings — Decedent’s brothers or sisters, nephews or nieces, etc.); or
- Going down more than one level of kinship — If the Decedent is survived by:
- Multiple generations, and
- One or more of the Decedent’s children have predeceased leaving children of their own who have survived the Decedent.
*** CAUTION ***: Throughout the process of determining the identity of a Decedent’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 “Legatees and Devisees” are those individuals and organizations who would take the estate according to the terms of Decedent’s Will had he/she died testate. If Decedent died intestate (or if Decedent 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 Decedent’s Will “Beneficiaries.” To determine the identity of the Beneficiaries and what each takes, see: Decedent’s Beneficiaries.
The “Beneficiaries or Transferees of Decedent’s Nonprobate Assets” are those individuals and organizations who take any of Decedent’s nonprobate assets, for example:
- Surviving joint tenants;
- Surviving takers under a Community Property Agreement;
- Designated beneficiaries of Decedent’s payable on death (“POD”) to (or “in trust for”) bank accounts;
- Designated beneficiaries of Decedent’s transferable on death (“TOD”) to securities;
- Designated beneficiaries of Decedent’s life insurance policies on his/her life;
- Designated beneficiaries of Decedent’s IRA or Keogh Plan; and
- Successor beneficiaries of Decedent’s Revocable Living Trust (Recommendation: Include notice to the Trustee).