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What Happens if you Die Without a Will in California?

Most people know that they should do some sort of estate planning to govern the management and distribution of their assets when they die. But, what happens if your death occurs before you have prepared your Will or other estate planning documents? The short answer: It depends.

die without a will

You’re Letting the State Write Your Will

There is a misconception that if you don’t get your Will done in time, it will mean that the state of California will inherit everything you own. That scenario, while theoretically possible, is highly unlikely. However, if you don’t have your own Will prepared, you are, in effect, letting the state write your will for you.

California, like other states, has laws to cover what happens when someone dies without a Will. In legal terms, this is referred to as dying “intestate.” Intestate succession laws are confusing, and who inherits really depends on your marital status at the time of your death, and who survived your death.

The two easiest scenarios are this:

  • If you were married and did not have children, parents or siblings at the time of your death, your spouse will inherit everything.
  • If you were not married but were survived by children, your children will inherit everything.

However, if you were married and were survived by children, or by siblings, or by parents, California law divides your estate among your spouse and others in accordance with the law.

When someone dies without a spouse, descendants, parents or siblings, California’s intestate succession laws spell out which distant family members are eligible to inherit your estate. It is possible your estate could go to someone you don’t know well and don’t have any relationship with. Alternatively, if no distant family members are found, the state will inherit your estate.

Certain Assets Pass Outside of a Will or Intestate Succession Laws

Whether or not you have had a Will or Trust prepared, there are certain assets that will pass independently of those documents or of the state’s intestate succession laws.

Any asset that you own with someone else as joint tenants with rights of survivorship will pass by law to the other named joint owner(s). Similarly, any asset where you have named one or more designated beneficiaries will pass to those people by contract. These include things like life insurance and retirement accounts, as well as “transfer on death” or “pay on death” designations on investments, bank accounts or real estate.

Take Control of Your Own Estate Planning

When you take the initiative to handle your own estate plan, through a Will, or even better, through a Trust or a combination of tools, you get to control how and to whom your assets pass, and who is in charge of handling that process. Planning ahead will help ensure that the process of administering your estate will be easier and less expensive for your loved ones, making their lives a little easier at a time when they’re grieving.

Our team of experts has the experience and ability to tailor a comprehensive estate plan for you. After a thorough review of your assets we will present you with various estate planning techniques that will suit your needs no matter what type of estate you have. Contact us today to get started!