The Lawletter Vol. 38 No. 3
When a decedent dies without a will, leaving no living spouse, descendants, parents, or siblings or their issue, the intestacy statutes generally divide the estate into two halves, called "moieties," with one half passing to the collateral relatives of the decedent's maternal kindred and the other half passing to the paternal kindred. This distribution is complicated where (1) there are relatives of half blood among either the paternal or maternal kindred, and (2) the estate is administered in one of the seven states that still reduce the intestate share of half-blood relatives (usually by half the value of whole-blood beneficiary shares), namely Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, and Virginia. Though intestate distribution is often simple once the heirs at law are identified, a problem arises in these states that reduce the intestate shares of half-blood takers, specifically, whether to reduce the shares of collateral-relative half-blood takers before or after division of the estate into the maternal and paternal moieties. Only a handful of cases nationally appear to have addressed this issue, but, importantly, each has held that division of the estate into moieties necessarily precedes the reduction in value of any half-blood beneficiary shares—a reduction that will occur only (if at all) where there is a mix of whole-blood and half-blood takers within the individual moiety.
For example, in the Florida Supreme Court opinion Estes v. Nicholson, 39 Fla. 759, 23 So. 490, 493 (1898), a dispute had arisen between the beneficiaries of an intestate estate as to when the reduction in value of the shares of half-blood collateral relatives was to occur. There were only three beneficiaries of the estate: a paternal aunt of the half blood and a maternal grandmother and a maternal aunt of the whole blood. The Florida intestacy course-of-descents law at the time divided the estate into two moieties for the paternal and maternal lines where the decedent had left no surviving spouse, children or their descendants, parents, or siblings or their descendants. The trial court, prior to dividing the estate into the requisite maternal and paternal moieties, reduced the share of the half-blood aunt, so that she received one-fifth of the estate, while the two whole-blood maternal collateral relatives each received a two-fifths share.
On appeal, the question was presented as to whether the statutory reduction of a half-blood relative's share was to occur prior to division of the estate into moieties, as the trial court had done in its distribution plan, or afterward. The Estes court held that the statutory division of the estate passing to collateral relatives always precedes application of the half-blood reduction-in-share provision, and, thereafter, the half-blood reduction-in-share statute is applied separately to each moiety, where applicable. Therefore, the court below had erred in reducing the half-blood paternal aunt's share prior to separation of the estate into moieties. The proper distribution was therefore as follows: (1) the intestate estate was divided in half, with one portion going to the paternal side, the other to the maternal side; (2) the sole heir on the paternal side was the half-blood aunt, who therefore took the full one-half of the estate, as there were no whole-blood relatives in her moiety to reduce her share; and (3) the two whole-blood heirs in the maternal moiety therefore split the one-half interest in the estate passing to their moiety, so that the maternal aunt and grandmother each received a one-fourth share of the estate.