Wills and trusts give instructions for who receives your parent’s assets after death. But if your parent doesn’t have a will, who gets the estate?

When people pass away without a will, they die intestate. California probate courts rule on intestacy succession for these estates. California law has specific guidelines for intestacy succession.

The courts take out any debts

Before ruling on the distribution of your parent’s assets, the court pays off any creditors. If your parent had debts before passing away, the court pays off these first.

Distribution of the inheritance

The court then gives out the inheritance based on who is still alive. If your other parent is still alive, he or she inherits all the marital property. If your deceased parent owned separate property, the remaining spouse gets either one-half or one-third of that with the rest going to the children.

If your other parent has already passed away, the entire inheritance goes to you and your siblings.

Distribution per stirpes

For any inheritance going to you or your siblings, the court distributes per stirpes. First, the court looks at how many siblings you have. Then it divides up the inheritance equally between all of you.

But if one of your siblings has passed away and left children, that share of the inheritance goes to your deceased sibling’s children. They each receive an equal split of your sibling’s share.

Intestate succession happens without a will or trusts

Intestate succession can be a long process. The court will take its time deciding who has the right to your parent’s estate. You may want to speak with a lawyer if your parent dies intestate.

Having an estate plan with a will or trusts can help avoid intestate succession. But if your parent doesn’t make a will before passing away, a California probate court will follow intestate succession laws to distribute assets.