What happens if someone dies in California without a will?

On Behalf of | Feb 29, 2024 | Estate planning |

Most adults, especially those with children, readily acknowledge the importance of estate planning. However, the vast majority of those adults have likely procrastinated thus far. Only about one out of three adults has an estate plan on record.

The other two-­thirds of adults in the United States run the risk of an emergency or worse without any legal paperwork in place. These adults don’t have wills to divide their property or any documents to protect them in the event of a medical emergency.

Plenty of otherwise responsible adults in California have delayed writing a will or drafting other necessary estate planning paperwork. Some of them may die without any testamentary documents whatsoever. What happens if someone dies without an estate plan in California?

The law handles their estate

Contrary to what some people claim, the state of California does not automatically receive the assets that belong to those who die without an estate plan. Instead, state law provides very clear rules about which members of their family should receive the assets from their estate.

The law prioritizes someone’s immediate family members. Spouses and children are often first in line to inherit from someone’s estate if they die without a will. The exact distribution of assets depends on how much community property and quasi-community property someone has at the time of their death, as well as whether their spouse is also the parent of their children.

The law also has rules for those who have not yet started their own families. Parents can inherit when children or unmarried individuals without children die without wills. Siblings may also have inheritance rights if someone does not have a surviving spouse or children at the time of their passing.

It is only in the relatively rare scenario in which the state cannot identify any surviving family members that the estate may be at risk of becoming state property eventually. While people can count on their family members receiving their resources during intestate succession proceedings, they have no control over who inherits what from their estate.

For those with numerous close loved ones, specific legacy wishes or valuable property, the creation of an estate plan can be a wise move. Understanding what happens if someone dies without a will might help many people to find the motivation to finally create their estate plan.