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Alaska Inheritance Laws

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Inheritance law is a crucial legal area for many people in Alaska. Its significance is evidenced in Alaska’s Superior Court Filings for the Fiscal Year 2022, where probate case filings account for 30.40% of cases. A case exemplifying the complexity of these laws is Aubert v. Wilson. In this particular case, the Supreme Court ruled that the Superior Court did not err in awarding a substantial portion of the marital estate to the spouse when the other spouse passed away after the divorce decree but before the marital property was divided. This decision underlines the importance of proper planning and complying with estate and probate procedures. 

This article aims to shed light on Alaska inheritance laws. It strives to provide a clear and practical guide to individuals navigating formal and informal probate processes. It covers the nuances of dying with a will in Alaska, including the duties of personal representatives and validation procedures. It also addresses spousal and children's rights when a will is not present and the allocation of assets to other relatives. Unique aspects of Alaska's inheritance statutes, including provisions for posthumous heirs and non-U.S. citizens, are also explored.

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in Alaska?

A valid will is a legal document outlining how to distribute someone’s property after they die. It only becomes effective after death. The will covers how to divide the deceased person’s assets, appoints someone to carry out their instructions, chooses a guardian for any minor children, and states the individual’s preferences for handling their remains. While inheritance laws in Alaska have default rules for dividing property if there is no will, having one ensures your specific wishes are followed. Getting a lawyer’s help is recommended because of the legal complexities, although some people write their own will using Alaska-specific guides.

Probate, the legal process of authenticating a will, ensures adherence to the deceased’s wishes. Wills with an affidavit from the deceased, a notary, and a witness often receive immediate approval from a probate judge. Informal probate is a streamlined court procedure that enables the personal representative to distribute the deceased’s property to the rightful heirs with minimal judicial oversight. It is the most frequently used method when probate is required.

When someone dies with a will in Alaska, the personal representative initiating an informal probate process should follow these steps and timelines:

  1. Inform heirs and devisees within 30 days of appointment as personal representative.

  2. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

  3. File a Fiduciary Relationship Notice with the IRS.

  4. Notify creditors.

  5. Handle family allowances.

  6. Inventory the estate within three months of appointment.

  7. Check creditor claims four months after notifying creditors.

  8. Pay debts and claims four months after creditor notification.

  9. Disallow claims within four months and 60 days of creditor notification, as necessary.

  10. File estate tax returns within nine months of death.

  11. File disclaimers within nine months.

  12. File final tax returns by April 15th of the following year.

  13. Transfer property after debts are paid.

  14. File accounting or get waivers after transferring property.

  15. Close probate at least six months after creditor notification.

Life insurance typically bypasses probate when the policyholder (the deceased) has designated a beneficiary. If there is no named beneficiary or the beneficiary is deceased or unreachable, the life insurance proceeds become part of the estate. In such instances, these proceeds must undergo probate to determine their distribution.

Additionally, any property with a properly recorded Transfer on Death or TOD deed does not need to go through probate after the owner’s death. This deed allows the property to be directly transferred to the named beneficiaries, bypassing the probate process. 

Contesting a Will in Alaska

A will can only be contested in Alaska if it has undergone the formal probate process. To contest a will, one must establish eligibility to challenge it, typically as a beneficiary or someone directly affected by its terms. The key element of a will contest is providing strong evidence to support the claim that the will is invalid. Common grounds for contesting include:

  • Execution errors.

  • Mistakes during will creation or signing.

  • Revocation of the current will.

  • Claims of undue influence.

  • Lack of testamentary intent.

  • Insufficient capacity.

  • Fraud allegations.

The person challenging the will must file a petition in the formal probate court detailing their objections to the will. If the will has already been accepted for informal probate, a request to upgrade the proceeding to a formal process is necessary.

Once a will contest is initiated, at least one hearing is scheduled to allow the court to hear arguments from both sides. Parties involved can request a trial where a jury determines the will’s validity. This process, which includes mediation, evidence presentation, witness subpoenas, discovery phases, and depositions, can get as complicated and intricate as estate litigation.

The type of evidence required varies based on the nature of the will challenge but may include doctor’s reports, sworn statements, testimonies, documents, mental health evaluations, and handwriting samples. Given the intricacies involved, consulting an attorney in Alaska is advisable. 

It is important to note that some wills include a penalty clause to deter challenges. This clause stipulates that anyone contesting a part of the will forfeits their right to any gifts under it. However, if a will contest is made on reasonable grounds, the penalty clause does not apply. 

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Alaska?

When an individual in Alaska passes away without a will, their estate is subject to the laws of intestacy. Intestate succession laws involve distributing the deceased’s estates to heirs when no will exists or a will is invalid. Sometimes, partial intestacy occurs when a will exists but fails to allocate all assets. In a case like this, the unassigned assets are distributed under intestacy laws, while the rest follow the will’s directives.

The probate process under intestacy is similar to that of a will, whether intestacy is full or partial. The designated personal representative is responsible for settling debts, paying allowances, and transferring property to the rightful heirs. Alaska’s laws of intestacy designate heirs and their shares based on familial relationships. The specific probate process depends on the situation. 

It's important to note that, in the context of intestacy laws, certain life events have significant legal implications. A divorce in Alaska automatically revokes all gifts and appointments in a will to the ex-spouse and their relatives. An ex-spouse does not inherit unless a new will or codicil is made after the divorce.

Spousal Rights

In Alaska, when a person dies without a will, the surviving spouse is legally entitled to the entire estate if the deceased has no living parents or descendants. Furthermore, the surviving spouse receives the entire estate if all descendants of the deceased are also their descendants and they have no other descendants.

If the surviving spouse has at least one descendant shared with the deceased, they inherit $150,000 plus half of the remaining balance, with the other half going to the deceased’s descendants. In cases where one or more descendants of the deceased are not related to the surviving spouse, the spouse gets $100,000 plus half of the remaining balance, and the other half is distributed among the descendants. If the deceased is survived by both parents but no descendants, the spouse receives $200,000 plus three-quarters of the remaining balance, with each parent receiving one-eighth. 

Alaska adopts an elective community property system that requires spouses to explicitly agree to treat their property as community property. This agreement is guided by Alaska Stat. § 34.77.090 (2002). In the absence of such an agreement, the state follows common law principles, where property acquired during marriage generally belongs to the spouse who obtained it.

Notable cases in Alaska include In re Estate of Hatten, which clarifies that domestic partners do not inherit intestate property as a testamentary matter. This decision was due to the state’s intestate succession laws not recognizing domestic partnerships and the intestate’s intentional failure to create a will. Meanwhile, the Batey v. Batey ruling establishes that there is no inheritance right for a putative spouse if neither party has good faith belief in the marriage’s validity.

Children’s Rights

A child’s right to inheritance in Alaska depends on the family structure and the presence of a surviving spouse. If the deceased’s children are unrelated to the surviving spouse, they share half of the state. In cases where all children are shared with the surviving spouse and no other descendants exist, the spouse inherits everything. However, if there are other descendants, the children inherit half of the estate’s balance after the spouse receives a specified amount plus half of the balance.

While the child is under 18, the inherited property is restricted solely to support and education. Upon reaching 18, the child is entitled to all remaining property, regardless of maturity level. Property bequeathed to a minor typically transfers in one or four ways:

  • Directly to the child or someone to hold for the child’s benefit if the amount is less than $5,000.

  • Through a Uniform Transfer to Minors Act custodian.

  • Via a court-authorized protective proceeding.

  • A trust created under a will.

When a foster parent dies with a valid will, it dictates the inheritance for both adopted and biological children. If there is no will, adopted children have equal inheritance rights as biological children. 

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

If an individual in Alaska who is single and without children passes away, their estate is distributed to other relatives according to a set order. If there are no descendants, the estate is divided equally between the parents if both are alive, or it goes entirely to the surviving parent. If no parents are alive, then the estate goes to the descendants of the parents. In the absence of such heirs, the estate is distributed to the grandparents or their descendants. Each set of grandparents or their descendants (paternal and maternal sides) receives equal shares. If only one set of grandparents has surviving descendants, they inherit the entire estate.

Estates With No Heirs

There are instances where there is no conservator or an estate’s personal representative cannot locate any heirs or beneficiaries. This may occur if an individual passes away without a will and leaves no identifiable next of kin, such as a spouse, children, parents, or grandparents. In such cases, the state of Alaska assumes ownership of the estate. Should an heir later surface and believe the estate was incorrectly allocated to the state, they have the opportunity to recover it. This requires prompt action and legal advice from a probate attorney.

Unique Situations in Alaska Inheritance Laws

Alaska inheritance laws present unique scenarios that merit attention. Under the Uniform Probate Code, the state recognizes posthumous heirs or children conceived after a parent’s demise. For posthumous children to inherit, there must be clear proof that the deceased wanted to have a child. This proof could be a formal agreement or any other convincing documentation. To inherit, the posthumous child must be conceived within three years of the parent's death or born within three years and nine months of the death.

In addition, Alaska’s statutes grant equal inheritance rights to the following in cases of intestacy:

  • Non-U.S. citizens.

  • Half-blood relatives.

However, Alaska’s stance on same-sex partnerships when it comes to inheritance matters differs from that of married heterosexual couples. Without a valid will, same-sex partners do not automatically receive inheritance from each other. 

Lastly, Alaska adopts a strict inheritance law in instances where homicide is involved. Anyone found guilty of feloniously killing an individual is barred from inheriting any portion of that person’s estate. This exclusion encompasses intestate and elective shares. The law also covers joint property rights in such circumstances, changing joint tenancies to tenancies in common, thereby preventing the perpetrator from benefiting from their criminal actions. Legal provisions are in place to protect the interests of third parties affected in these situations.

Does Alaska Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

There are no inheritance or estate taxes levied by the state of Alaska. However, Alaskans are liable for federal estate taxes. This tax policy sets Alaska apart from some of its neighboring regions, which enforce their own estate taxes.

Resources Related to Inheritance Law in Alaska

Dealing with an inheritance in Alaska can be tricky, especially when sorting out a deceased family member’s assets. Fortunately, there are several support options for beneficiaries and other involved parties. These resources offer clear guidance on the probate and asset distribution processes. Some also provide free legal aid. 

These essential resources are outlined below, highlighting their services that help streamline estate management in Alaska.

Alaska Court System

The Alaska Court System aids in inheritance matters by offering resources and guidance on different estate cases, including small estates and informal and formal probates. The Self-Help Services: Probate section of its website explains the steps in a probate case, the personal representative’s responsibilities, and accounting requirements. It also covers aspects like the distribution of estate assets, transfer of asset ownership, debts, creditors, and federal taxes. Information on wills and trusts is also available, along with guidelines on assisting minor children after a parent's demise and practical steps before and after death.

For inquiries about a specific court case, jury service, operating hours, contact details, or ADA coordinators, contact your local court directly.

Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs aids in inheritance and probate matters through its Probate and Estate Services. The BIA’s process involves collecting data about a deceased individual’s family history, land holdings under trust or restriction, and trust personal property. The Office of Hearings and Appeals then reviews this data. The Alaska Regional Office works with tribal groups to gather family data and necessary documents and provides instructions for reporting death and initiating the probate process. 

For further details, visit the Probate and Estate Services office at 3601 C Street – Suite 1200 – MC 303, Anchorage, AK 99503, or contact (907) 271-3911.

Alaska Legal Services Corporation

The Alaska Legal Services Corporation is a nonprofit organization offering free legal aid to low-income Alaskans. It has been active for over 50 years, focusing on empowering communities and bringing resources to them. ALSC assists with various inheritance-related legal matters like wills and healthcare directives, as well as family law and housing protection. It also offers court representation, community legal education, advocacy, and one-time consultations, which are vital services for tribes that may not have the means to secure legal assistance on their own.

Anchorage Estate Planning Council

The Anchorage Estate Planning Council is a multidisciplinary organization for estate planning experts in Southcentral Alaska. It aims to enhance collaboration and understanding among various professionals involved in estate planning, including attorneys, investment advisers, life underwriters, trust officers, accountants, and philanthropists. AEPC focuses on fostering cooperation and the sharing of information among these disciplines, thereby improving estate planning and trust administration processes. It also offers access to estate planning attorneys, financial advisors, and firms providing trust services.

For assistance, you can contact the AEPC at

  • Address: 645 G St Ste 100 #1053, Anchorage, AK 99501

  • Email: AnchorageEPC@gmail.com

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