The Catholic University of America

Summary of District of Columbia Laws


Descent and Distribution

D.C. Code Ann. § 19-101 et seq.

The Law: Title 19 discuses Descent and Distribution, specifically the rights of the surviving spouse and children, intestate estates, simultaneous death, and escheat.

Beneficiaries: Depending on the class of beneficiaries involved, special drafting problems may apply. For example, see the code provision for specific guidance regarding distribution to minors, children who are adopted or born out of wedlock, pour-over trusts, and legacies to witnesses.

Other factors may effect distribution, including the elective share of a widow/widower. A surviving spouse may renounce all claim to the estate under the will and elect to take his/her legal share instead, which is the same as the intestate share, and not more than one-half of the net probate estate. See D.C. Code Ann. § 19-113. A family allowance of $10,000 belongs to the surviving spouse. See D.C. Code Ann. § 19-101.

Tax Issues: The law currently provides that for decedents dying on or after April 1, 1987, a District estate tax will be due solely for estates that must also complete a federal tax return. In addition, decedents with property outside the District which is taxed by another state may credit the tax against the District estate tax. See D.C. Code Ann. § 47-3702.

Intestate: If the decedent dies without a will, the petition for probate must state that after a diligent search, no will was found. The "D.C. Descent and Distribution" law will determine how the property is distributed, but administration of the estate will essentially be the same as if there were a will. See under "D.C. Descent and Distribution" law at D.C. Code Ann. § 19-301 et seq.

Escheat: When there is no surviving spouse or relations within the fifth degree, the surplus of real and personal property escheats to the District to be used for the benefit of the poor. D.C. Code Ann. § 19-701.

DC code updated 2/25/08 RAB
links updated 6/9/08 rab
Page checked August 4th, 2010, FJL.