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What happens if I die without a will?

If you live in California and have yet to make a will, you probably will be shocked to learn that the State of California has made one for you. The California Probate Code makes extensive provisions for the way in which your property and assets will be distributed if you die before making a will; i.e., if you die intestate. In other words, the State of California will decide who gets what share of your property.

As you likely already know, California is a community property state. This means that if you are married or in a domestic partnership, half of all the assets you and your spouse or partner have acquired during your relationship belong to you and half to your spouse or partner. Only the property you acquired before your marriage or domestic partnership belongs to you personally, as well as any property you have received as a gift during your relationship.

Intestate distribution if you are married or in a domestic partnership

In California, if you and your spouse, domestic partner, child(ren) or any other family member die at approximately the same time, such as in a car crash or other accident, you are deemed to have survived anyone who does not live 120 hours longer than you did. Therefore, any person who does not outlive you by at least 120 hours is deemed to have predeceased you.

Your surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive your half of the community property if you have no surviving children, parents or siblings. In California, “children” means both biological and adopted children.

If you have one or more surviving children as well as a surviving spouse or domestic partner, your half of the community property will be divided half to your spouse or domestic partner and the other half to your children in equal shares. Likewise, if you and your spouse never had any children, but one or both of your parents survive you, then your spouse or domestic partner gets half of your community property and the other half goes to your parent(s). While this information should not be taken as legal advice, it can help you understand the process and what to expect.

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