For many in California, it can be uncomfortable to consider the inevitable reality of death. But, it is something that will happen to everyone. With that in mind, there are certain issues that have to be accounted for regardless of the financial and personal situation of the individual. This is true with those who have significant property and money and those who are of more modest means. To that end, having a will can ensure that loved ones left behind will receive what the deceased, or decedent, wants them to receive. All properties will be allocated based on the terms of the will. Nonetheless, there are issues that will arise if the person dies without a will, and it is important to understand them.
Unfortunately, there is an unfounded belief that all property will automatically be taken by the state if there is not a will. This is simply not true. If a person dies without a will, it is known as “intestate.” The state then decides who the beneficiaries of the decedent are and what each will receive.
For example, a person who was married or was in a domestic partnership will have all of his or her community property given to the spouse or partner. Separate property will also be, partially, given to the spouse or domestic partner. The rest of the assets will be split between children, grandchildren, siblings and other relatives.
A person who was not married or in a domestic partnership will have the assets distributed to children or grandchildren. If there are no children or grandchildren, it will then go to the other relatives.
In cases where the spouse or domestic partner dies first, that person’s family will be entitled to receive portions of or all of the decedent’s estate. With a domestic partnership that is not registered, friends or various charities that might have been contributed to in the past will not receive anything, if there is not a will. If there are no living relatives and no will, then the state will be the beneficiary.
Given the way in which estates are handled in the event that a person does not have a will, it is important that everyone consider making sure their estate is handled based on their desires after death. This is why it is key to draft a will. Speaking to an attorney experienced in California law and wills is the first step and should be done as soon as possible.
Source: Ca.gov, “Do I need a will? — 3. What happens if I don’t have a will?,” accessed on March 22, 2016