Question: If my parents die without a Will how will their assets be divided between the children?
Answer: This is a state specific issue and not all of the states treat this the same. I will speak only to Connecticut law on this subject, which is called intestate succession. It is highly unusual for both spouses/parents to die at the same time. Even if it is only minutes apart it is always important to determine the order in which they die. That being said, lets assume that Mom passed first, even if it was only five minutes before Dad. The state statutes first consider if there are any surviving issue (meaning children, grandchildren, etc.) of the decedent. In the question asked we know that there were children.
Next, the statutes look to see if all of the surviving issue are all issue of the surviving spouse (Dad), and if this is the case, then the surviving spouse (Dad) would get the first one hundred thousand dollars, and one-half of the balance of the estate. As an example, we will assume that in Mom’s estate she had $300.000 solely in her own name. Dad would get the first $100,000, plus one-half of the remainder (another $100,000) for a total of $200,000 and the surviving issue would get $100,000 to be divided equally between them.
If the surviving issue of Mom were not also surviving issue of Dad, Dad would get one-half of the total estate and Mom’s children would get the remaining one-half to be divided equally between them. In the above example of a $300,000 estate, Dad would get $150,000 and the surviving issue would get the other $150,000 again to be split equally between them.
This rule applies only to assets owned solely by the decedent. If Mom and Dad owned any jointly held property, such as a bank account, brokerage account, real estate, etc. upon her death it would pass “by operation of law” to the other named owner. If Mom owned any assets with named beneficiaries, such as life insurance, annuities, bank accounts, etc. those assets would also pass to the named beneficiary.
As an example, if all the assets Mom owned, i.e. $100,000 worth of bank accounts jointly held with Dad, and real estate worth $200,000 held jointly with rights of survivorship with Dad, when she passed it would all go to Dad and nothing to the children, grandchildren, etc. regardless of who were the natural parents.
Another thing to keep in mind when looking at these situations, is that children who were born out of wedlock and the issue of such children along with legally adopted children are assumed to be natural children for the purpose of this succession of estate assets.
George P. Guertin, Esq.
Guertin and Guertin, LLC
North Haven, Connecticut