People young and old, rich and poor and anywhere in between in California often fail to move forward with organized will planning. Admittedly, it is a difficult issue to come to grips with. Mortality can be hard to accept. However, it can be costly and problematic for loved ones to avoid having an estate plan. Wills are an essential part of that and can head off family disputes over property after a person has died. Understanding what happens if a person dies without a will can be useful to deciding whether to craft one or not.
Dying without a will is also referred to as "intestate." When this happens, the state law will decide on the estate's beneficiaries. There is a prevailing belief among laypeople that assets will go to the state if there is no will. That is not the case. A person who is married and does not have a will means that all the community property assets go to the spouse. The spouse will also receive some of the separate property assets as well.
Separate property assets will also be distributed to other relatives such as children, parents, siblings, grandparents, nephews, nieces and other relations. A person who is not married will have the assets distributed to children or grandchildren if there are any. Otherwise, it will go to parents, siblings, nephews and nieces. When the spouse dies before the person without a will, the relatives of the spouse might have a claim to the estate. Friends, a person with whom the decedent was in a relationship but was not married, and preferred charities will get nothing. If there are no living relatives, the state will get the assets.
The negatives of failing to create a will are substantial and those who are avoiding it for one reason or another need to think about their decision and consider how it will affect their loved ones. For assistance with estate planning and probate and the benefits of wills, a legal professional can provide guidance and advice.
Source: calbar.ca.gov, "Do I Need a Will? -- What happens if I don't have a will?," accessed on May 30, 2017