Dying Without a Last Will and Testament in California

Understanding the Laws of Intestacy Succession

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Dying without a will in California means the state gets to determine who gets what after the person passes away. Even if the decedent is not a California resident but just owns real estate there, the California Probate Code intestacy succession laws dictate who inherits the belongings.

Having a last will and testament can make sure things are divided according to the deceased's wishes. But if there isn't a will, here are some key intestacy succession provisions you need to know about the probate code in California.

Survived by Spouse, Descendants, Parents, Siblings

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

  • Survived by a spouse and children: The surviving spouse inherits one-half of the deceased's community property and one-half or one-third of the separate property, depending on whether the deceased spouse left one child or two or more children. The children inherit the remaining one-half or two-thirds of the deceased person's separate property, and it is distributed per stirpes.
  • Survived by a spouse and no descendants, parents, or siblings: The surviving spouse inherits the deceased spouse's entire estate, including community, quasi-community, and separate property.
  • Survived by a spouse and a parent or parents and no descendants: The surviving spouse inherits all of the deceased spouse's community property and one-half of the deceased spouse's separate property. The surviving parent or parents inherit one-half 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 one-half of the deceased spouse's separate property. The sibling or siblings inherit one-half 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.

Not Survived by Spouse, Descendants, Parents, Siblings

If the deceased person dies without 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, or 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 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, you still may not inherit anything. Some estates are insolvent, meaning your relative's debts owed at the time of death may exceed the value of the probate estate. Your relative may also have left all non-probate property that isn't subject to intestate law. 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.