What Happens if You Die Without a Will in California?




25 May 2023

Death is an inevitable part of life, and planning for the distribution of your assets and the care of your loved ones after you’re gone is essential. In California, there are specific considerations to keep in mind if you die without a will, as the state has unique laws that govern the distribution of assets in such cases. In this article, we will explore what happens if you die without a will in California and the potential consequences for your loved ones.

Intestate Succession Laws in California:

When someone dies without a will in California, it is referred to as dying “intestate.” In such cases, the state’s intestate succession laws come into effect to determine how the deceased person’s assets will be distributed. These laws establish a specific order of inheritance based on the legal relationship of potential heirs to the deceased.

Distribution of Assets:

In California, the distribution of assets without a will typically follows a predetermined hierarchy outlined by the state’s intestate succession laws. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Community Property Laws: California is a community property state, meaning that assets acquired during a marriage are generally considered community property, owned equally by both spouses. In the absence of a will, community property will be distributed to the surviving spouse. However, separate property (assets acquired before the marriage or through gifts and inheritances) may be distributed differently according to intestate succession laws.
  2. Spousal Share: If you die without a will and are survived by a spouse and have children from a different relationship, the surviving spouse is entitled to a certain share of the community and quasi-community property. The specific amount depends on the number of surviving children. The remaining assets will then be distributed among the surviving spouse and children.
  3. Non-Traditional Families: California recognizes domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages. Intestate succession laws consider these relationships similarly to traditional marriages. If you are in a non-traditional family structure, it is important to understand how the intestate succession laws apply to your situation.
  4. No Living Relatives: In the event that you pass away without a will and have no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, or any other living relatives, your assets may escheat to the state. This means that the state becomes the rightful owner of your estate.
  5. Minor Children’s Share: If you have minor children and die intestate in California, their share of the estate will be held in a guardianship until they reach the age of 18. At that point, they will receive their inheritance outright, which may not align with your wishes for asset management and preservation.

Consequences of Dying Without a Will:

Dying without a will in California can have several potential consequences:

  1. Distribution according to State Laws: Without a will, you have no control over how your assets will be distributed. State laws dictate who will inherit your assets, regardless of your personal relationships, wishes, or intentions. This can result in assets being distributed in a manner that does not align with your desires or what may be best for your loved ones.
  2. Potential Disputes and Delays: The absence of a will can lead to disputes among family members who may have differing opinions about how assets should be distributed. This can result in legal battles, delays in probate proceedings, and strained relationships among your surviving family members.
  3. No Provision for Specific Gifts or Bequests: Without a will, you cannot leave specific gifts or bequests to individuals or charitable organizations that may hold sentimental or significant meaning to you. This means that you are unable to distribute assets in a way that reflects your personal values or desires.
  4. Guardianship of Minor Children: A will allows you to designate a guardian for your minor children, ensuring that their care and upbringing are entrusted to someone you trust. Without a will, the court will determine the guardianship of your children, potentially leading to uncertainty and disagreements among family members.
  5. Increased Costs and Time: Dying without a will can lead to additional costs and delays in the probate process. Without clear instructions, the court must follow the intestate succession laws, which may require additional time, court appearances, and legal expenses.

The Importance of Creating a Will:

Creating a will is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Ensuring Your Wishes Are Honored: A will allows you to specify how your assets should be distributed, ensuring that your intentions are followed. You have control over who receives what, including specific gifts or bequests.
  2. Designating a Guardian for Minor Children: If you have minor children, a will allows you to designate a guardian who will assume responsibility for their care and upbringing in the event of your passing.
  3. Minimizing Potential Disputes: By creating a will, you can help minimize the potential for disputes among family members. Clear instructions and distribution of assets can help alleviate disagreements and ensure a smoother probate process.
  4. Providing Peace of Mind: Having a will in place provides peace of mind, knowing that your loved ones will be taken care of according to your wishes. It relieves them of the burden of making difficult decisions during an already challenging time.

Consulting with an Estate Planning Attorney:

To ensure that your estate is handled according to your wishes and to minimize potential complications for your loved ones, it is essential to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. They can guide you through the process of creating a comprehensive and legally sound will, taking into account your specific circumstances and desires.

Located in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California, ARCHA LAW PC is a trusted resource for estate planning services. Our experienced attorneys have a deep understanding of California law and can provide expert guidance tailored to the specific considerations of the state. We are dedicated to helping individuals and families create comprehensive estate plans that protect their assets and loved ones. Contact ARCHA LAW PC today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards securing a solid future for you and your family in California.