When someone dies without a will, there can be a lot of uncertainty. Depending on the situation, friends and family may end up franticly searching in vain for evidence of what the decedent intended. Although close loved ones may claim they know what the individual wanted, without a valid will, the estate is going to be divided according to California law. So, who inherits in California when there is no will?
In California, when someone dies without a will, they are said to have died intestate. Intestate succession describes the order in which an estate will be distributed to specific heirs under the law. How the estate will pass will depend on who survives the decedent.
If the person who died was married, the surviving spouse’s share of the estate depends on whether the decedent also had children, living parents, siblings, or other relatives. There will also be questions related to the couple’s community and separate property.
California law provides that a surviving spouse will inherit all community property. This is noteworthy because, outside of some limited exceptions such as inheritance and property owned before marriage, community property consists of everything the couple has earned or acquired during the marriage. This may include valuable assets such as retirement and bank accounts, real estate holdings, and investment portfolios. Separate property consists of property owned exclusively by one spouse.
Parents, Siblings, and Other Family
If the decedent was married and had one child, the surviving spouse would get all of the community property and half of the decedent’s separate property. The child would get the other half of the separate property. If they had more than one child, the surviving spouse would get one-third of the separate property, and children would divide the remaining two-thirds.
If the decedent did not have children, California law next looks to surviving parents. If there are surviving parents, they would get one-half of the decedent’s separate property. The surviving spouse would get the other. If there were no parents, then the decedent’s sibling or siblings would get half of their separate property, and the spouse would get the other.
When there are no children, parents, or siblings, the law looks for additional relatives, including nieces or nephews, grandparents, aunts or uncles, cousins, and others. If the decedent did not have living parents, children, siblings, or other family members as defined under California law, the surviving spouse would inherit all of the community and separate property.
When there is no spouse, but there are children, they will inherit everything from their parent. If there is no spouse or children, but there are parents, they will inherit everything. Siblings inherit everything if there are no children or parents. Otherwise, the estate will pass to other relatives in an order dictated by California law. If there are absolutely no identifiable family members, the entire probate estate will pass, or escheat, to the State of California.
Being in the line on intestate succession does not guarantee that anyone will inherit from the probate estate. When a person dies without enough property and funds in their estate to pay their creditors, the estate will be considered insolvent. In that case, there won’t be anything left to give to identified heirs. There may also be property that passes to a decedent’s heirs outside of the probate estate, such as life insurance proceeds, funds paid to a retirement account beneficiary, assets placed in a trust, and property and funds that are subject to survivorship provisions.
California intestate succession laws and the probate process are complicated and can be challenging to navigate. If your loved one has passed away and you can’t locate the will, you should contact a California estate planning and probate attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. You and your attorney can review your circumstances and plan for your next steps.
At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we are conservatorship attorneys with the experience you need to protect your loved one. We can help you evaluate your circumstances and determine the best solutions for you and your family. Please contact us online or by phone to schedule an appointment today. https://www.salvolaw.com/contact/