When a person dies intestate, which means without a will, a common question the family asks is, if there is no will who gets the decedent’s assets, house, or other real estate? California probate laws dictate the guidelines for the transfer of property after a person’s death who did not prepare a will. In the simplest of terms, under California intestate succession laws, the transfer of property after a death without a will in California generally will be divided among the spouse, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews of the deceased.

Assets Unaffected by Intestate Succession Laws

Intestate succession laws only affect assets that would have been bequeathed through a will. There are many valuable assets that are distributed without interference from intestate succession laws in California. Regardless of whether or not a decedent had a will, below are assets that pass to the beneficiary named or to the surviving co-owner:

  • Property that was transferred to a living trust
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement accounts
  • Property that was owned as community property with the right of survivorship or with someone else in joint tenancy

California Laws for Community and Separate Property

In California, all property a couple receives and accumulates during their marriage becomes jointly-owned.  Therefore, each person becomes the owner of half the joint or community property, as well as half of the collective debt.  The only property that doesn’t become community property are gifts and inheritances received by only one spouse during their marriage, and that were not co-mingled with the assets of the marriage.

Separate property is property which was held prior to marriage or was acquired following a divorce.  Separate property can either be ‘real’ property or ‘personal’ property. Real property is generally real estate (land and buildings), while personal property encompasses everything besides real estate.

The Spouse’s Share in California 

If the decedent was married and died without a will in California, the spouse’s share of the estate depends if the decedent died with any surviving children, parents, or siblings; as well as whether the couple owned property as community property or as separate property.

The decedent’s spouse will inherit all of the decedent’s share of community property.  Separate property owned by the decedent will transfer to the surviving spouse if the decedent did not have any surviving children, parents, or siblings.   Otherwise, the surviving spouse will receive a portion of separate property that is also shared with surviving family members. An experienced probate attorney can advise of the laws determining the transfer of assets to heirs of a decedent who passed away without a will.

California intestate succession laws also apply to registered domestic partners.  However, California does not recognize common law marriages as legitimate for its residents.

Contact The Legacy Lawyers

The Legacy Lawyers specialize in all matters related to wills, trusts, estate, probate, and intestate succession law. For help understanding the guidelines of intestate succession laws in California, including the rights of children, parents, siblings for receiving estate assets of a person who died without a will, contact The Legacy Lawyers. Call (800) 840-1998 today.