If your relative died without making a will, you probably have questions about what to do next. Dying without a will is known as dying intestate. When people die intestate, their property passes to relatives by a legal process called intestate succession.
People use wills to indicate who they want to receive all of their property after their death. In the absence of a will, intestate succession determines who receives the property. Intestate succession also is used when someone’s will leaves out pieces of property, or someone wrote a will but the court finds that it is not valid.
In California, the order of intestate succession depends on whether the deceased person was married. If he or she was, then all community property goes to the surviving spouse. Any separate property is distributed in part to the spouse and in part to other heirs.
For example, if the deceased had one child, the spouse would take half and the child would take half the separate property. If the deceased had two children, the spouse would take one-third and each child would take one-third. If the deceased had no children but did have surviving parents, the spouse would take half and the parents would take half. It gets more complicated depending on which relatives survive the deceased.
If the deceased was not married on his or her death, then the estate goes to his or her children. It goes to his or her parents if there are no children, and then to other relatives if there are neither children nor parents. It gets increasingly more complicated to determine who inherits if immediate relatives of the deceased person are no longer living or cannot be located.
Intestate succession applies only to property that could have been inherited by will. Property that the deceased person owned as a joint tenant will pass to the other joint tenant or tenants. Property with beneficiary designations passes to the named beneficiary.
Generally, relatives of a person who dies without a will need to open probate so that the court can determine exactly who will inherit and what percentage of the estate each of them will receive. If you have a relative who recently died without a will and need help figuring out your next steps, consult a qualified estate law attorney.
Coping with the death of a loved one and cannot find a will? Angela Klenk, Esq. and the team at Beach Cities Estate Law couple personalized attention to your probate needs with big law firm experience for a winning combination to give you peace of mind. To schedule a case evaluation, visit Beach Cities Estate Law online or call (424) 400-2125.