What happens when someone dies without a will in California?

| Jul 16, 2021 | Estate Planning |

Most people have heard their whole life of the importance of creating an estate plan. Some people, for whatever reason, put off creating a will until it’s too late – perhaps because an accident or unforeseen circumstances took them from this world before they were in advanced age. Other times, someone creates a will, but that will doesn’t comply with California’s legal requirements, and the court invalidates it. In these circumstances, what happens to their estate?

California’s intestate succession statute

California has a statute in place that establishes the process that courts must follow when dealing with the estate of someone who died intestate. Intestacy is when someone passes away without a legally valid will in place.

The California Probate Code’s intestate succession statute has different outcomes, depending upon the living family members that the deceased leaves behind.

Distribution of assets for intestacy

If you pass away without a will, and you leave a surviving spouse behind, the first thing the court will do is categorize all of your belongings as marital property (also called community property) and separate property. In general, community property is anything you obtained while married, while separate property is anything you owned before getting married. There are some exceptions to these classifications.

When it comes to your marital property, your spouse will get one-half of your share of it. The other half of your share of the marital property (or all of it, if you don’t leave a surviving spouse) will be divided among your children, if you have any. If you don’t have any children, then the estate would go (in order) to your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, or other family members.

The court will divide your separate, non-marital property in a similar way to your marital property. The only difference is that your surviving spouse would only get one-third (instead of half) of your separate property, and the rest would go to your children, provided that you left behind more than one child or grandchild.

Intestacy can be quite complicated, and it can result in someone’s wealth going to people that they may not have desired. In order to ensure that your estate goes where you want it to, it’s best to have a thorough estate plan in place – no matter how young and healthy you may be.