West Virginia law establishes a system for distributing the intestate portion of your assets when you die. If you do not make a will before that time, all of your assets are considered intestate and are distributed according to this system. If you make a will, but leave out some of your assets, they are considered an intestate estate and are distributed according to state law.
If you are married and have no living descendants, your husband or wife will inherit all of your property. Your spouse also inherits all of the property if your only surviving descendants are also her descendants. Your surviving spouse inherits only one half of the estate, if you have children or descendants that are not from your current marriage. The surviving spouse inherits three-fifths of the property if he has children or descendants that are not from the current marriage.
Spouse’s Elective Share
West Virginia gives a surviving spouse the right to choose a percentage share of the estate based on the length of the marriage. Your spouse may choose the elective share instead of the share allocated by your will or by the laws of intestate succession. The elective share is 50 percent for spouses married 15 years or more and decreases to 3 percent for those married for at least one year, but less than two years.
Other Family Members
Your surviving family members inherit the property remaining after your spouse’s share or, if you are not married, all of the property. West Virginia law sets the priority for inheritance, starting with your descendants and continuing to your parents or their descendants and your grandparents or their descendants. If, for example, you have no surviving descendants, but your parents are still alive, they will inherit your estate. If you have no living descendants or parents, your siblings will inherit.
For intestate succession, the law requires a surviving heir to live at least 120 hours longer than the person leaving an estate. In effect, the law treats someone who does not meet this requirement as if she had died before the decedent whose estate is being distributed, losing any right to inherit. If the time of death for either party is uncertain, the surviving heir’s estate must prove that the time requirement has been met.
If no family members outlive you, the state of West Virginia inherits the intestate estate. The state auditor sells your real property and deposits the proceeds in the state’s general school fund. The state treasurer conducts a public sale of your personal property and deposits the proceeds in the general revenue fund. West Virginia prohibits any individual convicted of killing someone or conspiring to kill someone from receiving any property from the estate of his victim.
Kate Fogle, an attorney and former English teacher, is the communications director for a non-profit agency in Stockton, Calif. Prior to recent articles on eHow.com, her writing has been published in-house for professional purposes. Fogle is a graduate of UC Davis with a JD from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall.