Did you know that where you live determines what happens when you die? OK, admittedly we are not talking about what happens to you personally, as there are many spiritual, religious, and medical questions behind this existential quandary. We are talking about what happens to your property.

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Where you live plays a very important role in determining what happens to your property when you die, especially if you die without a will. A will is a legal document that expresses your wishes for how your property is to be distributed upon your death. If you die without a will, then the laws of the state where you live end up directing what happens to your property after you die.

If you or a loved one call Alaska home, then this article is for you. Here, we will answer some common questions regarding what happens if you die without a will in Alaska. 

Alaska’s Intestacy Laws Explained

A person who dies without a will is said to have died intestate. If a person dies intestate, then the intestacy laws of the state where the deceased person resided control what happens to a person’s property. Intestacy laws may also apply in other circumstances such as when a will is invalid.

If a person dies without a will in Alaska, then Alaska intestacy laws will dictate what happens to their property. If you die without a will in Alaska then what happens to your property depends on many factors. In particular, who is still living among your relatives, what type of property you own, and how you own the property.

How Does Probate Work in Alaska If There Is No Will?

Probate is a court-supervised process for the handling of a deceased person’s assets and debts. In Alaska, the probate court process is the same regardless of whether a person did or did not have a will. 

During probate in Alaska if there is no will, the court appoints a personal representative who has the legal authority to handle various tasks including paying creditor claims and transferring property to the appropriate persons. The main difference between probate for a person with or without a will is simply who gets the property. If a person dies with a will, then the will controls who gets the property. If a person dies without a will, then Alaska's intestacy laws control who gets the property.

Who Typically Inherits Assets in Alaska If There Isn’t a Will?

In Alaska, an heir is the person who has a right to inherit property if a person dies without a will. Alaska intestacy laws control who has the right to inherit. The laws follow the general assumption that a person would want their closest family members to inherit first. Keep in mind that an heir must survive the deceased by five days to inherit. 

In Alaska, who inherits is generally determined by whether or not the deceased was survived by a spouse. In a later section, we review what the surviving spouse’s rights are if there is no will. For now, we are talking about who typically inherits property in Alaska if there is neither a will nor a surviving spouse.

In that situation, the property tends to pass to the deceased’s descendants or next of kin. Descendants are a person’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on down the parent-child bloodline. Children related by adoption and/or half-blood are treated the same as biological children.

If a person does not have a surviving spouse, then inheritance typically works the following way in Alaska: 

  • If one or more descendants survive the deceased, then the descendants get the entire estate.
  • If no descendants survive the deceased but both parents are still alive, then each parent gets half the estate. If only one parent is alive, then that parent gets the entire estate. 
  • If no descendants or parents survive the deceased, then the descendants of the deceased’s parents get the entire estate. 

Under Alaska law, even grandparents and grandparents' descendants can inherit property, depending on who survives the deceased. In some circumstances, the deceased may have no surviving relatives. As a result, the state of Alaska would get all of the deceased’s property.

If you think that you may be entitled to property that has passed to the state of Alaska, then you should contact a probate attorney immediately. A probate attorney can answer your questions and help you navigate the probate process.

Frequently Asked Questions: Dying Without a Will in Alaska

One of the better-known nicknames for Alaska is “The Last Frontier.” It earned this nickname in part because of its remote location relative to the lower 48 states as well as its rugged (and beautiful) landscape.

What happens if The Last Frontier becomes your final resting place? As we have previously mentioned, if you have a will, you decide what happens to your property when you die.

What happens when your parent dies without a will?

The death of a parent can be a difficult experience. One of the questions that you may need to answer after the loss of a parent is what happens to their property if they died without a will.

As we have previously discussed, that will depend on whether or not they had a spouse who survived them.

Parent has a surviving spouse

If your parent dies without a will in Alaska and has a surviving spouse, then their property would be distributed as follows: 

  • If your parent’s surviving descendants are also the descendants of their surviving spouse and their surviving spouse has no other surviving descendants from another relationship, then the surviving spouse would get the entire estate. 
  • If your parent’s living descendants are also the descendants of their surviving spouse but their surviving spouse has at least one surviving descendant from another relationship, then the spouse does not get everything. The surviving spouse would get $150,000 plus half of the remainder of the estate and the deceased’s descendants would get the other half. 
  • If you are not the descendant of your parent’s surviving spouse, then the surviving spouse would get $100,000 plus half of the remainder of the estate and the descendants (including you) would get the other half. 

Parent does not have a surviving spouse

If your parent dies without a will in Alaska and does not have a surviving spouse, then what happens to their property depends on whether or not they have any surviving descendants. If one or more descendants survive your parent, then the descendants are entitled to receive everything. Otherwise, inheritance would follow what was discussed in the previous section on who typically inherits assets in Alaska if there isn’t a will.

What are a surviving spouse’s rights if there’s no will?

In Alaska, the surviving spouse is defined as the person who was married to the deceased at the time of their death. They are considered the surviving spouse even if the couple was legally separated at the time of death and/or divorce or annulment proceedings were underway.

The surviving spouse has many rights, even if there was no will. As discussed above, these rights generally depend on whether or not the couple has descendants. Their rights also depend on the deceased’s other surviving relatives.

If no descendants or parents survive the deceased, then the surviving spouse gets the entire estate. Similarly, if all of the surviving descendants of the deceased are also descendants of the surviving spouse and the surviving spouse has no other surviving descendant from another relationship, then the surviving spouse still gets the entire estate. 

If the deceased is survived by a spouse as well as descendants and/or their parents, then the surviving spouse may have to share a portion of the estate. That portion is determined by who survived the deceased and their relationship to the deceased. 

Elective share

In some instances, the deceased may not have had very much probate property to leave their surviving spouse. In those instances, “the surviving spouse is entitled to a minimum amount of the person's total property,” according to Alaska law. This is also called the spouse's “elective share.”

Calculating the elective share can be a complicated process. A surviving spouse who receives little to nothing through intestacy should speak with an experienced probate attorney. 

Family allowance

During the probate process, the surviving spouse and the deceased’s surviving minor children may have other rights, including the right to support. This support is called the “family allowance” and it is paid by the personal representative during probate for the support of the surviving spouse and the deceased’s minor children.

This allowance may be paid in a one time payment or in monthly amounts for up to one year. The personal representative can determine the reasonable amount for support but the spouse and children may ask the court to increase the limits as appropriate. 

Are there any probate exemptions if you die without a will in Alaska?

Exempt property is property that does not have to go through the probate process. Exempt property is not subject to creditor’s claims against the estate. 

In Alaska, exempt property is the deceased’s personal property worth up to $10,000. The personal representative must give the exempt property to certain family members.

As we have previously discussed, whether or not the deceased had a surviving spouse will usually determine who gets the property. If the deceased has a surviving spouse, then the exempt property goes to the surviving spouse. If the deceased does not have a surviving spouse, then the exempt property is divided between the deceased’s children. 

The spouse (or children) can choose from the following property: 

  • Personal effects
  • Appliances
  • Household furniture
  • Automobiles

If you have questions about probate exemptions in Alaska, you should contact a probate attorney license to practice law in Alaska. They will be able to answer your questions and advise you of your rights. 

Who is considered next of kin in Alaska?

Next of kin generally refers to a person’s closest living blood relatives. However, the exact definition of the term varies by state. In Alaska, next of kin includes the deceased’s descendants, parents, siblings, and grandparents.

Understanding Alaska’s Laws on Dying Without a Will

If you live in Alaska, it is always a good time to start thinking about end-of-life planning. It is also worth remembering that the end-of-life planning process is different for everyone. What is best for your neighbor or friend may not be what is best for you. 

The first question you may want to ask yourself is whether Alaska’s intestacy laws are right for you. If you have concerns about how your property will be handled after your death, then you should meet with an estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney who is licensed in Alaska can answer your questions and help you make the best decision for you.


Sources:

  1. “Death Without a Will - Intestacy.” Probate, Alaska Court System, 18 December 2017, courts.alaska.gov.
  2. “Glossary of Probate - Estates Terms.” Glossaries, Alaska Court System, 7 November 2018, Courts.alaska.gov.

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