California Intestate Laws: What Happens If You Die without a Will?

Estate planning questions and answers

The purpose of a will in an estate plan is to give you the ability to state how you want your possessions and money distributed. You can also use it to state who you do not want to give anything to when you die. It’s also used to name a guardian to care for minor children. So, what happens if you die without a will? The short answer is that California intestate laws are invoked by the probate court to determine what will happen to your possessions, money, and minor children.

California Intestate Laws Can Be Hard to Understand

While California intestate laws are meant to distribute an estate to heirs when someone dies without a will, it’s not always that simple. California has both personal and community property. Additionally, the laws look at the degree of relatedness to determine if someone is an heir.

What Is the Difference Between Personal Property and Community Property?

California intestate laws will first look at the property within the decedent’s estate. The goal is to determine what is personal property and community property. Personal property is something that is owned outright by the deceased. It is something only in their name. If they were married, it includes any assets or property that the deceased inherited during the marriage or any assets or property that the deceased owned before the marriage took place.

Community property is property that is jointly owned property. It is property of some kind that is titled in the name of the decedent and, most commonly, their spouse. Property doesn’t just mean a house or a car. It can be a bank account, a coin collection, or another asset of monetary value.

The probate court treats personal property differently from community property. Community property, since it is jointly owned by another person, may be fully inherited by the living owner.

Spouses or Domestic Partners Must Be Identified

The probate court will seek to identify a surviving spouse or domestic partner. Both marriage and domestic partnerships are legally acknowledged relationships in the State of California. Couples who live together without being married or being in a domestic partnership have no legal status under California intestate laws. This highlights the importance of having a will in place. Additionally, divorced or legally separated spouses are not entitled to claim any part of the estate.

What about Other Family Members?

California intestate laws address what happens to estates when other family members may be heirs regardless of whether the decedent was married. For marriage, community property will be inherited in full by the spouse. However, the spouse is only entitled to inherit half or one-third of existing personal property. The other half or one-third will be distributed to children of the deceased, parents of the deceased, or siblings of the deceased.

If there is no spouse or partner, the property within the estate will be divided between the decedent’s children, parents, or siblings. In estates where there is no spouse and no close relatives (biological or adopted children, parents, or siblings), the estate will be distributed between any other relatives that may be found. This may include nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. If there is no one that may inherit the estate, the State of California will take possession of the property.

Are You an Heir?

If you’re an heir to an estate in California, we may be able to help you collect your inheritance faster. To learn whether you’re eligible for our services, complete our quick and easy questionnaire by clicking here.

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