California's intestate succession laws

Most people in California have good intentions when it comes to estate planning. They know they have to get around to it someday. Unfortunately, for too many people that "someday" never comes, and they die without leaving a trust or will that directs how they want their estate to be distributed.

When a resident dies without a will or trust, California's intestate succession laws control the distribution of the deceased person's property. If the deceased person was married, the surviving spouse is entitled to all of the couple's community property. This basically means the surviving spouse gets all property the couple acquired, other than by gift or inheritance, during the marriage.

If the decedent left a surviving spouse but no children and no other close relatives, the surviving spouse will also receive all the decedent's separate property. If the decedent left children or close relatives, the separate property is apportioned among them according to a series of rules that take into account the number of children or, if no children, whether certain close relatives survived the decedent.

If the decedent did not leave a surviving spouse, the estate is distributed first to any children in equal shares, and if any child has died before the decedent that child's share is divided among the deceased child's children. If the decedent left no spouse and no children, the estate goes first to parents; if no parents then to siblings; and if no siblings then to a series of more distant relatives.

Most people want to choose who will inherit their estate after they die. To do this, it is necessary to prepare an estate plan in the form of a valid will or trust. The estate planning process does not have to be complicated, but getting more information about the available options is a good first step to take.

Source: Cal. Prob. Code §§ 6400-6402, accessed Aug. 28, 2015

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