Dying Without a Will in Kentucky

What Are the Laws of Intestate Succession in Kentucky?

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When a Kentucky resident dies without a last will and testament, the intestacy succession laws will dictate who inherits the deceased person's probate estate. Laws can be confusing so perhaps the best place to start is by defining a few of the terms you will see.

A last will and testament is a document that a person completes when they are living direction the division of their assets and belonging at the time of their death. If someone dies without a will, the division of their property must be decided by the state in a process known as "probate," which is a legal proceeding that can be costly and takes several months to complete.

Kentucky's Revised Statutes (KRS 391.035) outlines court procedures for the handling of the estate.

Intestacy Laws

In most cases, in the absence of a valid will, the property will flow to the spouse, then to children, and then on to other family members of potentially remote degree. However, that is not necessarily the law in every state. States will also vary on the treatment of adopted, foster, and step-children under intestacy laws.

Below is a summary of the Kentucky intestacy laws in various situations.

If the Deceased Person Is Survived by Family

Here is what will happen under the Kentucky intestacy laws if the deceased person is survived by a spouse or descendants including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents or siblings:

  • Survived by a Spouse and Descendants: In this case, the surviving spouse will inherit half of the deceased spouse's probate estate, and the deceased spouse's descendants will inherit the other half of the probate estate, per stirpes.
  • Survived by Descendants and No Spouse: In that case, the deceased person's descendants will inherit the entire probate estate, per stirpes.
  • Survived by a Spouse and Parents but No Descendants: In this case, the surviving spouse will inherit half of the deceased spouse's probate estate, and the deceased spouse's parents will inherit the other half of the probate estate in equal shares if both are living, or the entire half share if only one parent is living.
  • Survived by a Spouse and Siblings but No Descendants or Parents: In that case, the surviving spouse will inherit half of the deceased spouse's probate estate, and the deceased spouse's siblings will inherit the other half of the probate estate, per stirpes.

The Deceased Person Is Not Survived by Family

Here is what will happen under the Kentucky intestacy laws if the deceased person is not survived by a spouse or descendants including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, or siblings:

  • Survived by Descendants of Deceased Brothers Or Sisters and No Spouse, Descendants or Parents: In this case, the descendants of the deceased person's deceased brothers and sisters (including nieces and nephews or the children of a deceased niece or nephew) will inherit the entire probate estate, per stirpes.
  • Not Survived by Any Family Members: In the unlikely circumstance that the deceased person is not survived by any family members as described above, then the entire probate estate will escheat to the State of Kentucky.

What Will You Inherit?

Even if you believe, based on the information provided above, that you are entitled to an intestate share of your relative's estate, you might not inherit anything. This may be the case if your relative's estate contained only non-probate property. The debts your relative owed at the time of death may have exceeded the value of the probate estate, which would make the estate insolvent.

If you're not sure about your legal rights as an intestate heir in Kentucky, then consult with a Kentucky probate attorney to be sure.