If someone dies without a will, it’s referred to as “dying intestate.” It means that loved ones will face the process of probate in California without a will. Unfortunately, probate is notorious for being complex and expensive. Like all states, California has set legal guidelines for distributing a person’s property and other assets when they’ve died intestate. Known as the “intestate succession” laws, they determine who the decedent’s beneficiaries will be. It basically depends on which of the closest relatives have survived the decedent, but it’s not that simple. According to the probate code in California, how assets will be distributed is based upon multiple factors.

Types of Property When the Deceased was Married

The state’s intestacy succession laws determine who inherits the property. If a person was married at the time of death, the way assets are distributed depends on what title is assigned to the asset. There are three types of assets and they are community property, decedent’s separate property, and quasi-community property. More about each follows.

Community Property

The legal term “community property” is a reference to property and income acquired during a marriage. Unless both spouses have made an agreement that something is separate property, all income and assets earned or bought during marriage are deemed to be the property of both spouses equally. Community property includes earnings, income, and wages.

Debts are also part of community property, and they are owed by both spouses in equal amounts, regardless of which person incurred the debts. If, for instance, Paul runs up a credit card balance in the amount of $20,000 and then stops making the payments, his spouse Pat can be pursued for the money owed. Pat’s wages could even be lawfully garnished.

Separate Property

The gifts and inheritances that each spouse in a marriage receives are their own separate property as well as any assets each spouse acquired or owned prior to the marriage date. Pat, for example, is not an equal owner of a home Paul owned before the marriage. An exception is if the property is “transmuted” into community property. This happens if community money earned during the marriage pays for repairs, maintenance of the asset, and insurance premiums.

Quasi-Community Property

Assets acquired by a spouse when living outside the state of California are considered quasi-community property if those earnings were used to purchase property such as real estate that would be considered community property in California.

Asset Distribution for Probate in California Without a Will

The following are key intestacy succession provisions in California’s probate code. The following information details the share a surviving relative might receive if their loved one died intestate:

  • If only the spouse survives the deceased, the surviving spouse inherits all of the assets and property.
  • If only children survive the deceased, the surviving children inherit the property and assets, which will be evenly distributed between them.
  • If only the parents of the deceased survive, the surviving parents will inherit all of the property and assets.
  • If the spouse and the children survive the deceased, the spouse gets all of the community property plus one-third of the separate property and the children inherit two-thirds of the separate property, which is evenly distributed between them.

What if a Person Dies Intestate With No Family?

If someone dies in California without a will and doesn’t have any known relatives, all of their property will be forfeited into the state’s reserves. It’s highly uncommon for this to happen, however, because even a person who was very remotely related to the deceased would inherit the estate before it was forfeited to the government. The property may end up going to the spouse, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, distant cousins, or anyone else remotely related to the deceased.

Other California Intestate Succession Rules 

The following are two of many examples of other laws that apply to probate in California without a will:

  • Even if your loved one who dies intestate was not a California resident, his or her California real estate will be handled through California probate, by law. 
  • There is a survivorship period that can affect who beneficiaries will be in a case. In order to have a right to inheritance under intestate succession laws in California, a person must outlive the other by 120 hours. For instance, if you and your sister are in a serious automobile collision and she dies a day after you do, her estate would not be entitled to receive any of your property. (Cal. Prob. Code § 6403.)

Thinking Ahead

Walk through your home or apartment and look at all of your belongings. Now, imagine what would happen to your possessions if you suddenly died without having prepared a will. Who gets your belongings and assets? Who will clear out your home and handle all of your affairs? What if your heirs fight over who gets your most treasured or valuable items? Preparing a will helps loved ones avoid struggling with these types of questions. Perhaps most importantly, a will ensures that your belongings are divided according to your wishes.

Contact The Legacy Lawyers Today 

Our experienced legal team at The Legacy Lawyers has decades of experience handling probate matters in California. Going through probate in California without a will after the passing of a loved one is an area we specialize in. Our commitment is to simplify matters, keep everything on track, and provide the pros and cons surviving loved ones might want to consider when making various decisions throughout the process.

Many different complications can come up when handling all details related to a decedent’s possessions. Assets must be identified, collected, and appraised in a manner that is fair to beneficiaries. As probate attorneys, we can provide helpful guidance regarding debt resolution with available estate funds. It’s not unusual for probate to be a long, complex process, depending on such matters as types of estate assets, the number of beneficiaries, and any number of other factors.

Having a knowledgeable probate attorney on your side is the best way to go through probate in California without a will. Contact us today for a consultation by calling (800) 840-1998.