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Understanding intestate succession

The prospect of planning out the distribution of your estate in Delaware may seem daunting (and not simply because it forces you to face the stark reality of your own mortality). Concerning more tangible matters, you may have concerns that your decisions may offend and/or cause contention amongst your potential beneficiaries.

Many come to us here at the Law Offices of Bonnie M. Benson, P.A. with this same concern. One potential solution they propose is not preparing a will at all, instead relying on their beneficiaries to sort out who gets what of their assets on their own. If you also believe those to be a possibility, you should understand that this is not an option thanks to intestate succession.

Delaware’s intestate succession guidelines

The state determines the dispersal of your estate if you die intestate (without a will). In Chapter 5 of the state’s Decedents’ Estates and Fiduciary Relations Code, it states that your spouse receives your entire estate if you having no surviving parents or descendants. If you have surviving parents (or descendants who are also the descendants of your spouse), your spouse receives the first $50,000 in value of your estate, plus one-half the remaining balance. That interest reduces to simply one-half of the estate if one or more of your descendants are not also the descendants of your spouse.

If you have no spouse, your intestate estate descends in the following order:

  • Descendants
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Next of kin

Allowances for non-relatives

You will notice that the law makes no allowances for any non-relatives. This means that if you want any non-relative to benefit from your estate (such as a friend, business partner or your alma mater), you need to state that in a will.

You can find more information on planning your estate throughout our site.

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