Code of the District of Columbia

Subchapter I. General Provisions.


§ 20–301. Scope.

This chapter applies to the opening of an estate which begins with the filing of a petition for probate by an interested person as provided in section 20-304 and results in the probate of a will or the determination of a decedent’s intestacy and the appointment of a personal representative. Probate may occur either:

(a) As an abbreviated probate proceeding as provided in subchapter II of this chapter;

(b) As a standard probate proceeding as provided in subchapter III of this chapter;

(c) As a small estates proceeding as provided in subchapter VI of this chapter.


(June 24, 1980, D.C. Law 3-72, § 101, 27 DCR 2155.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 20-301.


§ 20–302. Necessity for probate.

(a) A will is ineffective to transfer property or to nominate a personal representative unless it is admitted to probate or recorded as provided in section 20-341 (b).

(b) Except for foreign personal representatives, no person shall exercise the powers or assume the duties of a personal representative unless he has been appointed by the Court.


(June 24, 1980, D.C. Law 3-72, § 101, 27 DCR 2155.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 20-302.


§ 20–303. Order of priority for appointment of personal representative; persons excluded.

(a) General. —

(1) The Court shall, except as provided in subsections (b) and (d), appoint personal representatives, successor personal representatives, and special administrators according to the following order of priority, with all persons in any one of the following paragraphs considered as a class:

(A) the personal representative or representatives named in a will admitted to probate;

(B) the surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children of an intestate decedent or the surviving spouse or domestic partner of a testate decedent;

(C) the residuary legatees;

(D) the children of a testate decedent;

(E) the grandchildren of the decedent;

(F) the parents of the decedent;

(G) the brothers and sisters of the decedent;

(H) the next of kin of the decedent;

(I) other relations of the decedent;

(J) the largest creditor of the decedent who applies for administration;

(K) any other person.

(2)(A) Relations of whole blood shall be preferred to those of half-blood in equal degree. Relations of half-blood shall be preferred to those of whole blood in a remoter degree.

(B) Relations descending shall be preferred to relations ascending in a collateral line. A nephew or niece shall be preferred to an uncle or aunt.

(C) A person may not be preferred in the ascending line beyond a parent or in the descending line below a grandchild.

(b) Exclusions. — Letters shall not be granted to a person who, at the time any determination of priority is made:

(1) has filed with the Register a declaration in writing renouncing the right to administer;

(2) is under the age of 18;

(3) has a mental illness as defined in section 21-501 or is under conservatorship as defined in section 21-1501 [repealed];

(4) has been convicted and not pardoned on the basis of innocence of a felony in the District of Columbia or of an offense in any other jurisdiction which, if committed in the District of Columbia, would be a felony and the sentence imposed for such conviction has not expired or has expired within the past 10 years;

(5) is an alien who has not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence;

(6) is a judge of any court established under the laws of the United States or is an employee of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals or the District of Columbia Court System, unless such person is the surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner of the decedent or is related to the decedent within the third degree; or

(7) is a nonresident of the District of Columbia, unless such person files an irrevocable power of attorney with the Register designating the Register and the Register’s successors in office as the person upon whom all notices and process issued by a competent court in the District of Columbia may be served with the same effect as personal service, in relation to all suits or matters pertaining to the estate in which the letters are to be issued; in such cases the Register shall forward by registered or certified mail to the address of the personal representative, which shall be stated in the power of attorney, all notices and process served upon the Register pursuant to such designation.

(c) Appointment within class. — When there are several persons in a class eligible to receive letters, the Court may grant letters to one or more of them, as necessary or convenient for the proper administration of the estate; except that, subject to subsections (b) and (d), all personal representatives named in a will admitted to probate are entitled to letters.

(d) Exception. — The Court may, for good cause shown, vary from the order of priority to letters set forth in subsection (a).

(e) Definitions. — For the purposes of this section, the term “domestic partner” shall have the same meaning as provided in § 32-701(3).


(June 24, 1980, D.C. Law 3-72, § 101, 27 DCR 2155; Apr. 4, 2006, D.C. Law 16-79, § 6, 53 DCR 1035; Mar. 2, 2007, D.C. Law 16-191, § 133, 53 DCR 6794.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 20-303.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 20-352, § 20-501, and § 20-531.

Effect of Amendments

D.C. Law 16-79, in subsec. (b)(6), substituted “surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner” for “surviving spouse”; added subsec. (e); and rewrote subsec. (a)(1)(B), which had read as follows: “(B) the surviving spouse or children of an intestate decedent or the surviving spouse of a testate decedent;”

D.C. Law 16-191, in subsec. (e), inserted the subsection heading.


§ 20–304. Petition for probate.

(a) General. — The petition for probate shall contain all knowledge or information of the petitioner with respect to:

(1) the name, domicile, and place and date of death of the decedent;

(2) the petitioner’s name, address, age, citizenship, relationship to the decedent, interest in the estate, if any, and legal disability, if any;

(3) facts necessary to confer jurisdiction upon the Court;

(4) any other proceeding filed elsewhere regarding the decedent’s estate;

(5) the character, location, and estimated value of the decedent’s real and personal property and the total estimated debts and funeral expenses of the decedent;

(6) the names and addresses of all interested persons, and the names of all persons who are witnesses to any will referred to in subsection (c); and

(7) whether the decedent died intestate or testate with disclosure of further information pursuant to subsection (b) or (c), as appropriate.

(b) Intestate. — If the decedent died intestate, the petition shall state that a diligent search for a will has been made.

(c) Testate. — If the decedent died testate, the petitioner shall: (1) exhibit the original of the will with the petition, or exhibit a copy of the will if the original has already been filed; and (2) state whether the petitioner knows of any later will. If the petitioner is filing or has filed the original of the will, the petition shall state the manner in which the petitioner obtained the original of the will.

(d) Explanation for lack of information. — The petition shall state the reasons why any information required by subsection (a) cannot be furnished by the petitioner.

(e) Request for abbreviated or standard probate or small estates proceeding. — The petition shall indicate whether the petitioner requests an abbreviated probate, small estates or standard probate proceeding.

(f) Request for court action. — The petition may contain, as appropriate, and shall (without the need for the filing of any complaint) be sufficient to obtain the Court’s action on, a request for one or more of the following:

(1) the admission to probate of any will exhibited with the petition;

(2) an order directing witnesses to an alleged will to appear and give testimony regarding its execution;

(3) an order requiring any person alleged to have custody of a will to deliver it to the Court;

(4) an order directing any interested person to show cause why the provisions of any lost or destroyed will should not be admitted to probate as expressed in the petition;

(5) a finding that the decedent died intestate;

(6) a request for the appointment of a supervised personal representative if the requirements of section 20-402 are met and supervision is desired, or for the appointment of an unsupervised personal representative in other cases and, in each case, for the issuance of appropriate letters;

(7) any other relief that the petitioner may deem appropriate.


(June 24, 1980, D.C. Law 3-72, § 101, 27 DCR 2155; Mar. 21, 1995, D.C. Law 10-241, § 3(j), 42 DCR 63.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 20-304.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 20-301, § 20-311, § 20-312, § 20-321, and § 20-352.

Emergency Legislation

For temporary amendment of § 4 of D.C. Law 10-241, see § 2 of the Probate Reform Act of 1994 Emergency Amendment Act of 1995 (D.C. Act 11-79, June 28, 1995, 42 DCR 3452).

Editor's Notes

Application of Law 10-241: Section 4 of D.C. Law 10-241, as amended by § 2 of D.C. Law 11-54, provided that the act shall be applicable to estates of decedents who died on or after July 1, 1995.


§ 20–305. Complaint to contest the validity of a will.

Except as provided in section 20-353(b) , any person may file a verified complaint to contest the validity of a will within 6 months following notice by publication of the appointment or reappointment of a personal representative under section 20-704 . The person filing the complaint shall give notice to all interested persons.


(June 24, 1980, D.C. Law 3-72, § 101, 27 DCR 2155; Mar. 21, 1995, D.C. Law 10-241, § 3(k), 42 DCR 63.)

Prior Codifications

1981 Ed., § 20-305.

Section References

This section is referenced in § 20-331.

Editor's Notes

Application of Law 10-241: See Application of Law 10-241 and Emergency act amendment notes to § 20-304.