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How Intestate Succession Works in California

Intestate Succession Works in California

No will in California? Discover how intestate succession decides your heirs!

What happens to your possessions if you pass away and have not made a will? This question can lead to many headaches in California without the right help. California intestate succession is what the law calls it when there’s no will, and it decides who gets what from your belongings. It can be tricky and hard to understand. 

That is why having an experienced California trust & estates lawyer by your side is so important. They know about California intestate succession and can help make things much easier for your family. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you’ll want a lawyer to guide you through each step and look out for your loved ones.

Quick Summary:

  • No Will in California. Without a will, California’s intestate succession laws determine the distribution of a person’s assets, which can be complex and require legal guidance.
  • Definition of Intestate Succession. Intestate succession refers to the legal process that decides how assets are divided amongst surviving relatives when someone dies without a will in California.
  • Spousal & Children’s Inheritance. If married with children and no will, the spouse inherits all community property and a portion of separate property, with the rest going to the children according to detailed rules.
  • Priority of Heirs. Intestate succession prioritizes immediate family members, with a specific order for surviving spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and distant relatives.
  • Probate Assets. Only assets subject to probate are distributed through intestate succession, whereas directly designated assets like life insurance proceeds and joint property aren’t affected.
  • Intestate Distributions. Intestate succession outlines specific scenarios: children inherit everything if there is no spouse; the spouse inherits everything if there are no descendants or parents; parents or siblings inherit everything if no spouse or descendants.
  • Excluded Assets. Assets outside of wills, such as retirement accounts, life insurance, and living trusts, are not governed by intestate succession laws.
  • Spouse’s Share. In California, a surviving spouse’s inheritance of community vs. separate property depends on the presence of other living relatives.
  • Children’s Share. Biological and legally adopted children are entitled to a share of inheritance, depending on other surviving family members.
  • Common Intestate Issues.  Disputes often arise between biological children and step-parents, particularly without a will to clarify intentions.

What Is the Definition of Intestate Succession?

Intestate succession is the sequence in which spouses, children, siblings, parents, cousins, great-aunts/uncles, second cousins twice removed, and so on are eligible to receive an inheritance from a family member when there is no will or trust. For instance, in California, if someone who is married dies with no will, communal assets – that is, assets earned throughout the marriage that belong to the marital estate, such as profits, income, and so on – are divided into their living mate. If a person owns separate assets, one-half of it will be transferred to the living partner if the couple has just one kid, with the child receiving the other half. If the marriage has two or more children, the surviving spouse receives one-third of the separate property, while the children receive the remaining two-thirds.

What are California’s Intestate Succession Laws?

California Probate Code 6400-6455 establishes precise criteria for distributing assets to a decedent’s partner, children, siblings, and parents who are still alive. Here are the basics:

  • If the decedent had no will or trust and was married with no children, every possession is given to the living spouse.
  • If the deceased person left no will or trust and didn’t get married but had children, every property is transferred to the deceased’s sons.
  • If there’s more than one child, the possessions are divided proportionally among the live heirs. If a child predeceases the decedent, that child’s offspring will inherit their portion.
  • If the dead had been married with children and did not leave a will or trust, the surviving spouse inherits the decedent’s communal assets. The remaining partner and their kids receive half of the decedent’s separate assets if there is only one child, one-third to the surviving husband, and two-thirds to the children if there are several children.
  • Suppose the dead did not leave a will or trust and did not have a spouse or children. In that case, every possession is distributed to the decedent’s family or beneficiaries in order of closest kinship, e.g., parents, siblings, cousins, etc.
  • If the deceased dies without a will or trust and has no heirs or family, all property will fall to the state.

What is the Order of Intestate Succession in California?

Intestate succession is intended to deliver inheritances to the deceased’s immediate blood relatives when someone passes without a will or if their will fails to dispose of all of their property. As a result, the sequence of intestate succession starts with the decedent’s closest family members and moves on to distant relatives.

The sequence of priority for intestate succession is as follows:

  1. Surviving spouse
  2. Children
  3. Grandchildren
  4. Parents
  5. Siblings
  6. Nieces and nephews.
  7. Grandparents
  8. Aunt and uncle
  9. Cousins

Which Assets Pass Through Intestate Succession?

Only assets that transfer via probate are subject to intestate succession regulations. Many significant assets do not go through probate and are not subject to intestate succession regulations. Here are a few examples:

  • You handed over assets to a living trust.
  • Life insurance benefits go to a specified recipient.
  • assets in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account with a designated recipient
  • Securities stored in a transfer-on-death account
  • Real estate with a transfer on death deed
  • Automobiles for which you have a transfer of death registry
  • Bank accounts that are payable upon death or
  • Property that you own jointly or entirely with another person.

Regardless of whether you have a will, these assets will be transferred to the remaining co-owner or whomever you specified. However, if you do not make a will and none of the specified recipients are living to inherit the assets, it may be transmitted by intestate succession. 

Who Gets What In California?

Intestate succession determines who receives what based on who your closest relatives are when you die. Here is a brief overview:

If you die with: This is what happens:
Children without a spouse The children inherit everything.
spouse but no children, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews The spouse inherits everything.
Parents without children, spouses, or siblings Parents acquire everything.
Siblings without children, spouse, or parents. Siblings receive everything.
a spouse with one kid or grandchild Your spouse will receive your communal property and half of your individual assets.


In California Intestate Succession, Can All Assets Be Inherited?

Not all assets are dispersed through wills. These assets are excluded from the laws of intestate succession. These assets encompass life insurance payouts, accounts for retirement cash, and any assets assigned to a living trust. Exemptions apply to payable-on-death bank accounts, transferable securities accounts, and transferable automobiles. Furthermore, jointly held property, such as a family home, is not dispersed through a will; the co-owner simply assumes full title.

The Spouse’s Share of California

In California, if you become married and die without a will, what your spouse receives is determined in part by whether you own the assets as an individual or communal property. In general, communal property is property obtained during your marriage, whereas separate property is assets obtained prior to marriage.

Your partner gets to keep half of the shared property. If you have individual assets (many spouses combine everything and have no personal property), your partner will acquire all or part of it. The extent of your spouse’s portion of your separate assets is determined by whether you have living parents, children, siblings, nieces, or nephews. If you do, they and your spouse will receive your distinct assets. (Cal. Prob. Code sections 6401, 2023).

Children’s Inheritance

If the decedent’s sole surviving are their children, they will get the whole inheritance. If the children and the husband survive, the offspring receive just one-half to two-thirds of the separate property, not any communal property. These requirements apply to foster kids, who are legally considered as biological offspring. Biological children who were put up for adoption will not partake in the bequest unless they got adopted by the decedent’s spouse.

What Are Common Intestate Succession Issues?

Intestate succession can result in tension and conflict, especially when a person dies having been married multiple times:

Biological Children vs. Step-Parent Disputes

  • Conflicts often occur between the decedent’s biological children and their step-parent.
  • Children may not acknowledge step-parents’ rights, particularly in recent marriages or where there was friction.

Emotional Stress Amplifies Issues

  • Tensions are heightened by the emotional turmoil following a loved one’s death.
  • Disagreements may become more intense due to grief and existing familial conflicts.

To mitigate such disputes, it’s crucial to have estate planning that specifies the estate’s distribution and addresses the roles and inheritance rights of step-parents and biological children. This forward planning can prevent misunderstandings and ensure the decedent’s true wishes are honored.

Call Our California Intestate Succession Attorney Now!

The easiest approach to prevent probate and intestate succession is putting a will or trust established before death. This is especially crucial if you have a surviving spouse or children who rely on those possessions to survive. An experienced estate attorney can assist you in planning for all possible outcomes. Century Trusts & Estate Planning has an established track record of assisting clients with their last preparations. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and find out what estate paperwork you need.

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