Dying Without a Will in Maryland, Virginia or D.C. – Understanding the Differences in the DMV

There is an area known as the “DMV”, which is a nifty acronym for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. People who reside in the DMV routinely travel between these states on a regular basis (D.C. isn’t technically a state, but for the purposes of this blog, we’ll just call it a state). Just because these states are neighbors, does not mean that they share the same laws when it comes to passing assets on to your loved ones if you die without a will. If you suddenly pass away and do not have a valid will, you have died “intestate”. Each state has laws on the books that establish an orderly process for what to do with your estate in this situation. Here are the relevant provisions for residents of the DMV region:


D.C.’s intestacy law will pass your assets to your closest relatives. A court will begin with your spouse (i.e. husband or wife) and your children. According to section 19-306 of the D.C. Code, when a person leaves behind surviving children but no spouse, each child will receive an equal share of your estate. If one of your children pre-deceases you, then the offspring of your deceased child will be entitled to that share of your estate.

If you don’t have a spouse or children, your parents will get your property. If you don’t have a spouse, children, parents, or grandchildren, then the court will look for distant relatives, including aunts and uncles, cousins, and your spouse’s relatives. If the court exhausts its list of known blood relatives, then the state will simply take your property.


In Maryland, if you are survived by a spouse and at least one child under the age of 18, your spouse will receive only one-half of your probate assets. Your child, or children, will receive the other half. If one of your children pre-deceased you, then the deceased child’s share will pass on to their children.

If you are married and all of your children are over the age of 18, your spouse will receive the first $15,000 of your probate assets, plus one-half of your assets. The remaining half will pass to your children or your parents (if you have no descendants).

Your spouse will receive your entire estate only if you have no descendants or parents who survive you, according to the Maryland State Bar Association. If you have no surviving spouse, no descendants, and no surviving blood relatives, then your assets go to the government, specifically the county board of education.


If you die without a will in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the surviving spouse will get your assets, unless you’re survived by children or their descendants. In this situation, two-thirds of your estate passes to all of your children and with the remaining one-third of the estate going to your spouse. If you are not survived by a spouse, then your estate goes to your children and their descendants. If you aren’t survived by a spouse or children, then your estate goes to your parents, both or whichever one is living at the time. If your parents are no longer living, then your estate will go to your siblings and their descendants. If you aren’t survived by a spouse, children, parents, or siblings, then the court will see if you are survived by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and great grandparents.

As you can see, if you die without a will, the process of finding an appropriate party to receive your assets can get extremely complicated. It’s also a complete unemotional process. By that, I mean that the court does not consider your relationship to a particular relative. If you had a falling out with a child or a sibling and would never voluntarily give them a portion of your estate, it doesn’t really matter if you die intestate. The intestate process is a statutory creation so the court follows the law that is on the books.

So what’s the take-home message: create a will or revocable trust. Sit down with an estate planning attorney and talk about your estate. I know it can be an uncomfortable topic, but it is something that will help both you and your loved ones and will help ensure that your assets are passed on to the people that you care about most and whom you want to enjoy the assets from your estate.

About the Editors: InSight Law is an estate planning firm in Ashburn, Virginia (VA).The firm’s areas of practice include estate planning, business planning, trust and probate administration, assisting veterans and their family members with obtaining benefits, and medicaid planning. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact our office at 703-654-6019. We’re here to help.