If a Californian dies without a will, their probate estate will get divided according to California’s laws of intestate succession.
There are some exceptions to this rule.
For example, property held in trust will pass to the person’s heirs according to the terms of that trust.
Even for those who do not have trusts, jointly held property such as real estate, bank accounts or vehicles may go to co-owners outside of the probate process.
There are also payable on death accounts and beneficiary accounts like retirement plans or life insurance policies. This property will go to the person named as the beneficiary.
If there is no beneficiary, then the proceeds from these accounts may pass under California’s laws.
California’s intestate succession laws apply whenever any piece of property does not fit into an estate plan. Thus, they would apply if a person’s will is invalid or if the will did not address a particular situation.
Who benefits from intestate succession?
If a person is married when they die, then their spouse benefits most from intestate succession. At a minimum, a spouse receives half of the couple’s community property.
Depending on the deceased person’s family situation, the spouse may receive all the remaining probate estate. This is the case when the deceased never had children, had no siblings and whose parents are no longer alive.
If the deceased person had more than child, then the spouse will likely receive one-third of the remaining estate. If the deceased person had at least one child, surviving parents or brothers and sisters, then the spouse will receive one-half of the remaining estate.
If a person dies unmarried, then their children and their children’s descendants are first in line to inherit.
Although these are general observations, the reality is that how intestate succession will work depends on a person’s family circumstances. Even a slight difference in circumstances can make a huge impact on how an intestate estate gets distributed.
This is one reason why administering an intestate estate can be very complicated and can also be wrought with conflict.
The best way to prevent this is to prepare a thorough estate plan.
However, in those cases where a family will need to administer an intestate estate, the family may need to understand their legal options.