Couple meets with lawyerThis is the second post in my series on what happens when one dies without a will in San Bernardino County or elsewhere in California. My last post provided an overview of topics I will be discussing in this series, explained common misperceptions about our state’s probate laws, and stressed the need to contact an attorney if a loved one has died without a will. In this post, I will look at how California law treats a case where the deceased failed to prepare a last will and testament or Trust.

California residents who die without a will are considered to have died “intestate”

When one dies without a will or Trust, then the law considers that person to have “died intestate.” California, like other states, has rules in place for how property will be divided in such situations. Such laws are meant to provide a sense of order and to prevent situations in which relatives begin fighting over who gets which asset. These laws also serve the important purpose of preventing people from “helping themselves” to property after one passes away; if a relative steals from the estate, then the Probate Court may order the assets returned. When one dies without a will in our state, it is not a free for all. Instead, the Court will distribute assets pursuant to predetermined hierarchy. For example:

  • If one dies with a spouse, surviving parents, and no children then the spouse inherits all community property and ½ of the separate property
  • If one dies with a spouse and children then the spouse receives all community property and ½ or ⅓ of the separate property with the children receiving any remainder

There are many other potential scenarios, depending on one’s living relatives, as to how property will be divided.

It is, unfortunately, common in California for people to die without a will. Many people do not like to think about their own demise and, as a result, they never get serious about estate planning. While one’s own death is never a pleasant subject, I cannot stress enough that it is something you should consider. As a probate and estate planning lawyer, my San Bernardino area office handles such issues. Call today to speak with an attorney. We also service Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Ontario, Victorville, Rialto, Hesperia, Chino, Upland, Apple Valley, Redlands, Highland, Colton, Yucaipa, Montclair, elsewhere in the Inland Empire, as well as Los Angeles.

Results vary based on facts, circumstances, and legal issues involved. All cases must be properly reviewed prior to determining applicable law and likely conclusion.

There are two ways in which a California estate may be considered intestate

A California estate may become subject to intestate succession. The first, which is straightforward, is that the deceased died without ever having prepared a will or Trust. The second involves instances where one’s will is found to be invalid. If one’s estate is the subject of a will dispute, and the will is invalidated, then the estate will fall under the intestate succession laws. Given these potential complexities it is strongly suggested that you contact an attorney immediately.