People often hear about the need to create a will, but some people don’t pay attention to what happens when a person dies and there isn’t one in place. When there isn’t an estate plan in place, the person is said to have died intestate.
California laws govern who is going to get what when their loved one dies without a will. The Probate Code’s intestate succession section outlines all matters related to their assets. There are many different aspects of this code that can apply to various circumstances, so you should find out how they apply specifically to your case before you make any decisions.
“Birthright” might not matter
Some individuals assume that because they are the eldest child, they are entitled to a large part or all of the estate. This isn’t the case. In fact, there is nothing in California intestate laws that sets one child of a decedent in a better position than another child.
If the decedent was married at the time of death, any community property will become the property of the surviving spouse. It might be necessary to file a spousal property petition to formally establish ownership of the property for that spouse. Quasi-community property is handled a bit differently, depending on whether the decedent had other living heirs who need to split the property.
An unmarried person’s intestate succession order would start out with any children they have. They would all split the assets equally as long as they are the same generation. Without living children, there is a chance that assets would pass down to grandchildren or great grandchildren.
If the unmarried person doesn’t have offspring, the assets go to their parents. If the parents aren’t living, everything is split by the decedent’s siblings or their offspring. The line continues with the grandparents and then aunts and uncles, followed by cousins. The list continues with relatives further down the line.
Not all property is covered
There are many types of assets that aren’t governed by intestate laws. The general law is that the asset has to be eligible for distribution through a will in order to be subjected to intestate succession laws. Some of the ineligible ones include:
- Bank accounts with a payable on death designation
- Life insurance policies
- Vehicles with a transfer on death registration
- Joint tenancy property
- Community property with a right of survivorship
- Anything in a living trust
- Retirement accounts
It is important to understand these intestate laws since many people will die without a will. It can help to ensure that you are handling probate matters in an appropriate manner.