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What are my inheritance rights?

You probably believe that you have the right to inherit from your spouse, domestic partner or parents when they die. While this is generally true, what you may not realize is that if a Californian dies without having made a will, (s)he dies intestate.

The California Legislature explains that in this situation the intestacy laws of California determine the heirs and the proportion of the decedent’s estate that each heir receives. Any verbal inheritance promise that the decedent made to you during his or her lifetime is irrelevant.

Marriage or domestic partnership inheritance

If your spouse or registered domestic partner dies intestate and has no surviving parents, siblings or children, you inherit his or her entire probate estate, i.e., his or her half of your mutual community property. If (s)he has surviving parents, siblings or children, then you inherit half the probate estate and the other people share equally in the other half.

Be aware that children include not only biological and adopted children, but also “illegitimate” children if the decedent was a male who established paternity of them. Also be aware that if your spouse or domestic partner had one or more children who predeceased him or her but had children of their own who survive him or her, those grandchildren take their deceased parent’s place in the line of succession. The same applies to surviving siblings of predeceased parents.

Parental and sibling inheritance

If one of your parents dies intestate and your other parent survives, (s)he inherits half of the decedent’s estate and you and your siblings equally inherit the other half. Again, the children of predeceased siblings take their parent’s place in the line of succession.

If one of your siblings dies leaving no surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren or parents, you, your surviving siblings and any surviving child of a deceased sibling inherit equal shares of the probate estate.

While this information is not legal advice, it can help you understand California’s intestacy laws and what to expect if someone does not have a will when they die.

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