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Biddle Law Estate Planning Blog

Thursday, September 5, 2019

What Happens If Someone Dies Without a Will in California?

We all know that it is important to have a will. Whether it’s because we don’t want to think about our own mortality, we don’t have the money, or we just flat out don’t get around to it, sometimes people die without a will. When someone dies without a will, it is called intestate. So what happens to someone’s estate when they don’t have a will?

When someone dies intestate, the California probate estate must be administered, distributing his or her property. Their assets will go to the deceased’s closest relatives under California’s intestate success laws.

How Do California Intestate Success Laws Work?

When someone dies intestate, only assets that would have passed through their will (had they had one) are affected by intestate succession laws. This means that there are many important assets that are not affected by succession laws. Such assets include:

  • Proceeds of life insurance
  • Property that has been transferred to a living trust
  • Vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • Property owned with another person in joint tenancy of as community property with the right of survivorship
  • Funds in a 401(k), IRA, or other retirement account
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts

Who Decides Where the Assets of the Deceased Go?

The probate court determines who receives the assets based upon the facts of the person who died. It begins by asking as to whether he or she was married. If the answer is yes, then it depends whether the deceased owned community property, separate property, or a combination of the two. 

Community property goes to the surviving spouse, who may have to file a spousal property petition to establish ownership, while separate property is distributed according to the law. For instance, the first place the property goes is to the surviving spouse so long as the decedent is not survived by issue, parents, sisters, brothers, or children of a deceased brother or sister. If the decedent was not married then the estate is distributed in a different manner under the law. For instance, it first would go to the decedent’s children, who would take equal shares so long as they are of the same generation.

Biddle Law Helps Those in California Who Are Dealing with Probate Issues

As you can see, the probate process can be extremely confusing – especially for the estate of someone who died without a will. That’s why it is so important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced California estate planning and probate attorney.

At Biddle Law, we want to ensure that both the decedent and the heirs get what they deserve. We will fight to ensure that the decedent’s assets go to the right people. Let us help you with any of your probate questions and needs. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, call us at 650-560-7655 today!


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Biddle Law is located in San Mateo and Belmont and services San Mateo County including San Carlos, Burlingame and Foster City.



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