When a person dies without a formal will in place, California state law steps in and determines how the decedent’s estate is handled. This is defined legally as passing away intestate. In general, the assets of a person who dies intestate are distributed to their closest relatives. However, there are certain restrictions to these principles, such as the sorts of property subject to California’s intestacy laws (known as probate assets), what the decedent’s spouse is entitled to, how assets are divided among the decedent’s children, and the order in which the estate is to be distributed.
The remainder of this blog will provide an overview of what can happen in California if you die without leaving a will. You should seek the guidance of a local estate lawyer if you need more information on a specific intestate situation.
What Assets Are Subject to Probate?
Only assets that may have gone through a decedent individual’s will (if they had one) are subject to intestate laws in California. In general, this refers to property and/or assets that the decedent entirely owns, such as a registered automobile or personal goods that no one else can claim.
This also means that any property or assets held in trust, jointly owned, or with identified beneficiaries will not pass under California intestate succession laws. They will instead be passed in conformity with the rules governing those specific types of property. For example, the proceeds of a life insurance policy will be dispersed to the beneficiaries designated in the policy.
Payable-on-death bank accounts, retirement account funds, and shares kept in a transfer-on-death account are examples of valuable assets that do not generally pass through a will and hence are not affected by intestate succession laws.
Decedent Was Married When They Passed
If the decedent was married when they passed, the surviving spouse will receive 100 percent of their community property (community property often constitutes the majority of a married decedent’s possessions). The following is how the decedent’s separate property will be distributed by the court:
- If the decedent had no children, grandkids, parents, siblings, nieces or nephews, or other heirs, the surviving spouse will inherit all of the decedent’s separate probate assets.
- If a parent or their issue has just one surviving lineal descendent, the separate property is split 50/50 between the spouse and the lineal descendent, parents, or their issue.
- If the decedent has more than one lineal descendant, the surviving spouse receives one-third of the inheritance, while the surviving lineal descendants of the oldest generation share the remainder.
- If the decedent passed without a spouse, children, or grandkids, the rules become more complicated.
Decedent Was Unmarried When They Passed
If a decedent was unmarried when they passed, the following property will be distributed by the court:
- The probate property will be divided among the decedent’s children. If any of the decedent’s children dies before the decedent, the offspring of that child will share their decedent parent’s estate.
- If the decedent has no spouse or direct descendants, the regulations get more complicated.
The intestacy of someone close to you may have an impact on your rights. For example, you could be someone who would most likely inherit under a legitimate will but not under California intestacy law. On the other hand, you could be the type of person who inherits under intestacy rules but not under a valid will. In any case, you will most likely require the assistance of a California probate lawyer to help you make the best of your situation.
Estate Plans Tailored to Your Objectives
At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo in Woodland Hills, California, we offer quality, service-oriented representation in elder law and estate planning. We are dedicated to helping elders and families throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley effectively plan and protect their future. As we age, there are going to be a number of choices we have to make that involve our well-being and our family’s financial security. These are tough choices, but with our guidance, together we can better understand what options fit your needs. Are you ready to take your legacy into your own hands? We’re here to help. Contact us by calling 818-676-9572 or by filling out a client contact form.