What Happens If You Die Without a Will in California?

When someone dies in California without a will, their estate will go to their closest relatives under a legal process called “intestate succession.” In this post, we will go over how California’s intestate succession laws work.

What you will find is that now is the best time to draft a will. At Herbert Law Office, we can help you create a will that protects yourself and your family. Call us today.

what happens if you die without a will in California; intestate succession

Assets That Pass by Intestate Succession

California’s intestate succession laws are used to determine who inherits assets from your estate. But, not all assets are covered by intestate succession.

Only those assets that you own alone in your own name are passed on through intestate succession laws. These are the things that you would have passed through your will if you had one before you died. This does not include:

  • Property in a living trust;
  • Property owned with another person in joint tenancy or as community property with right of survivorship;
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts;
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account;
  • Vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration;
  • Life insurance proceeds; and
  • IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account funds.

These assets will go to the surviving co-owner or named beneficiary regardless of any will. They are also used as ways to avoid probate.

How Does Intestate Succession Work in California?

What happens if you die without a will in California is that your assets go to your closest relatives under the state’s intestate succession laws.

If Your Spouse Is Still Living

All of your community property will go to your surviving spouse. The assets you own alone in your own name are also passed on to your surviving spouse if you do not have any surviving children. Note that if you die without a will and you are legally separated but not divorced, your spouse will not be entitled to your assets.

If Your Spouse and Children Are Still Living

If you die and your spouse and children are still living, your spouse and children each inherit equal shares of the estate. So, if you have one surviving child, your spouse and child would each receive one-half of the estate. If you have two children, your spouse and children would each receive one-third.  

If You Don’t Have a Surviving Spouse But Have Children

Your surviving children will inherit your estate in equal shares. If you had children but were not married or in a registered domestic partnership with your children’s mother, they will receive a share of your estate after they prove that you acknowledged them as your children and contributed to their care and support.

If You Don’t Have a Surviving Spouse or Children

In this case, your estate will go to your parents. If you die, are not married or your spouse has passed, and have no surviving descendants or parents, your estate will divided equally among your brothers and sisters. What if your brothers and sisters passed before you? Your estate will be divided amongst your nieces and nephews.

If You Don’t Have Surviving Children, Parents, or Siblings

In this case, your grandparents will inherit your estate. If there are no descendants, siblings, parents, grandparents, or other family to receive the estate, your estate will “escheat” to the State of California. This is very rare because the law intends for you to pass on your assets to anyone who has even a remote relation to you.

Things to Keep in Mind

Unique features of California’s intestate succession laws you should know include the following:

  • 120 Hour Rule of Survivorship – The period of time someone who can inherit your estate must outlive you by is 120 hours.
  • Half-relatives  Half-relatives can inherit your estate just as if they were whole relatives.
  • Posthumous Relatives  Relatives who were conceived before, but born after, you die can inherit your estate as if they had been born while you were still alive.
  • Adopted Children – Children you legally adopted will receive a share of your estate in the same way as your biological children. Children you placed for adoption who were legally adopted by another family will not receive a share.
  • Immigration Status Relatives can inherit your property regardless of whether they are citizens or legally entered the U.S.
  • Slayer Rule  Someone who kills you can’t inherit your property.

Learn More About What Happens If You Die Without a Will in California

If you die without a will in California, intestate succession laws will determine who inherits your estate. If you are a parent with dependent children, you will also have no say in who will be their guardian.

The Palmdale CA will attorneys at Herbert Law Office can help you draft a will and build your estate plan to protect yourself and your family. By identifying your needs, goals, and family situation, we can ensure you lay a solid foundation for your spouse, children, and grandchildren. Contact us today.