Dying Without a Last Will and Testament in California

Understanding the Laws of Intestacy Succession

California state flag
••• Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG / Getty Images

When California residents or real estate owners die without leaving a Last Will and Testament, the California Probate Code intestacy succession laws dictates who inherits the deceased person's estate. Here are some key California intestacy succession provisions:

Deceased Person is Survived by a Spouse and/or Descendants and/or Parents and/or Siblings

If the deceased person is survived by a spouse and/or descendants, California intestacy laws dictate the following:

  • Survived by a spouse and children: The surviving spouse inherits all of the deceased spouse's community property and 1/2 or 1/3 of the deceased spouse's separate property. Children inherit 1/2 or 2/3 of the deceased spouse's separate property, per stirpes.
  • Survived by a spouse and no descendants, parents or siblings: The surviving spouse inherits the deceased spouse's entire probate estate.
  • Survived by a spouse and parent or parents and no descendants: The surviving spouse inherits all of the deceased spouse's community property and 1/2 of the deceased spouse's separate property. The parents inherit 1/2 of the deceased spouse's separate property.
  • Survived by a spouse and sibling or siblings and no parents or descendants: The surviving spouse inherits all of the deceased spouse's community property and 1/2 of the deceased spouse's separate property. The siblings inherit 1/2 of the deceased spouse's separate property.
  • Survived by descendants and no spouse: The deceased person's descendants inherit the entire probate estate, per stirpes.

Deceased Person is Not Survived by a Spouse, Descendants, Parents or Siblings

If the deceased person dies without a leaving a will and isn't survived by a spouse, descendants, parents or siblings, the property passes to any nieces and nephews. Otherwise, it passes to grandparents, aunts or uncles, great aunts or uncles, cousins, or to the children, parents and siblings of a predeceased spouse. In the unlikely circumstance that the deceased person is not survived by any of the aforementioned individuals. the entire probate estate will escheat to the State of California.

What You Will Inherit From a California Intestate Estate

So exactly what will you inherit if your relative dies without leaving a Last Will and Testament and the relative was a California resident or real estate owner? Even if you fall under the descriptions listed above, and you're thus entitled to an intestate share of your relative's estate, you still may not inherit anything. Why? Because your relative's debts owed at the time of death may exceed the value of the probate estate, thus rendering the estate insolvent. If you are not sure of your legal rights as an intestate heir in California, consult a California probate attorney.

The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.