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How is an estate divided without a will in California?

On Behalf of | Sep 4, 2023 | Estate Planning

Losing a loved one is emotionally challenging enough. But then, what if this loved one possesses properties? Dealing with the legalities of estate division can add stress, especially between inheritors. Things can get even more complicated if the deceased did not include these properties in a will. What happens then?

The intestate succession

When someone passes away without a will in California, the division of their estate is determined according to the state’s laws of intestate succession. This legal process ensures the distribution of the deceased person’s assets among their heirs.

How does it work?

Here is a simple breakdown of how the intestate succession process works:

  • Identifying heirs and priority: In the absence of a will, the court must determine who the legal heirs are. California’s intestate succession laws prioritize surviving spouses and direct descendants. If neither exists, parents, siblings or more distant relatives might become eligible heirs.
  • Community property and separate property: California follows a community property system. If the deceased acquired the assets during marriage, these are typically considered community property. This means equal distribution of these properties between the surviving spouse and descendants. On the other hand, separate property – owned before marriage or acquired by gift or inheritance – remains with the individual.
  • Distribution: If the deceased person has a surviving spouse and children, they will equally share the community property between them. The surviving spouse keeps their share, and the children inherit the remaining portion. If there is no surviving spouse but only children, each child will get an equal distribution of the estate.
  • No surviving heirs: The estate may escheat to the state if no eligible heirs exist. This means that the government will take possession of the assets.

It is important to note that while intestate succession provides a clear framework, it might not always align with the deceased person’s wishes. This is why creating a will is still advisable.