California Estate Planning: What if I Die Without a Valid Last Will and Testament?

California Estate Planning: What if I Die Without a Valid Last Will and Testament?

California Estate Planning: What if I Die Without a Valid Last Will and Testament?

In California, it is important to draft and properly execute a Last Will and Testament (a "Will"). A Will is your opportunity to designate how your assets will be distributed after your passing. If you die without a California Will, your possessions will be distributed according to California statutory law. These laws are generally called the laws of Intestate Succession. According to the California laws of intestate succession, generally speaking, your possessions will go to members of your family. The biggest risk is that you may not WANT some of your family to have your possessions. Further, the rules of intestate succession are very complicated once you get beyond immediate relatives. There is no reason to leave matters complicated. It is much easier to have a Will prepared. Call us here at Guardian Litigation Group at (800) 316-3133. We are Irvine, California, Will and Estate Planning attorneys. Here is a brief -- and simplified -- explanation of California Rules of Intestate Succession.

Note that some of your possession may go to persons based on how they are owned. Thus, a financial account that is jointly owned will go to the other person (or persons) who are co-owners, regardless of whether such person is a family member. Similarly, if you are married at the time of death, all "marital" property will go to your spouse. In California, marital property is considered jointly owned by the spouses. Thus, being jointly owned, the marital property will become the sole property of the surviving spouse.

That being said, most spouses have at least SOME separately owned properties. This property would include property owned separately before the marriage, gifts given solely to that spouse, and inheritances. Since the surviving spouse gets 100% of the jointly owned property, if there is no Will, then the separately owned property will be distributed according to the California laws of Intestate Succession.

Procedurally, if you die without a Will, your possessions will be distributed in a court probate proceeding. The California probate courts will distribute your possession using a statutory priority list. For ease of presentation, let's assume that you were unmarried at the time of passing. The priority list is as follows.

  • If there are surviving children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc., they are prioritized and receive 100% of the property; shares are proportioned in the same generation; thus, if two children, then each receives 50%; if one child has died, but had two children (that is, grandchildren), the two grandchildren share 50/50 the 50% of their parent, etc.
  • If there are no children, then the possessions go to surviving parent or parents
  • If no children or parents, then to surviving siblings
  • If no surviving children, parents, or siblings, then "up" to grandparents and their issue (that is, cousins); if the grandparents are still alive, then they will receive their proportionate share of the possessions; if otherwise, the children of the grandparents will receive your possessions in proportionate share

If you are married at the time of death, in very general terms, your spouse will receive about half of the separately owned property, with the remaining half being distributed according to the above priority list. As can be seen, the California Rules of Intestate Succession are quite complicated. Indeed, the Rules contemplate the situation where a spouse predeceases the person who dies without a Will. If there are no other family members of the person who died, then the predeceased spouse's children, parents, and siblings might be the ones who are entitled to the distribution of the assets and possessions.

As noted above, there is no reason for things to be this complicated. Get a Will prepared, and you can directly and clearly identify how you want your property distributed. You can distribute property to non-relatives (like your best friend) in your will.

Contact Our Experienced Irvine, CA, Estate Planning Attorneys

For more information, contact the Irvine, California Estate Planning attorneys at Guardian Litigation Group. Our Mission is to provide unparalleled Estate Planning legal services for our clients. We can be reached via our contact page or by phone at (800) 316-3133. We are located in Irvine, California.