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How do you divide your spouse’s property in intestate succession?

Losing a spouse is a heart-breaking, traumatic experience. When you depend on your life partner for years, it is a great shock to face the idea of a future without them.

On top of that grief, you also have to deal with the confusing and often overwhelming probate process. This process can be even more confusing if your spouse passed away without making a will. Then you might wonder: how will you divide your spouse’s possessions without a will?

How you owned your property matters

The property you shared with your spouse, including your home, pieces of jewelry and family heirlooms, holds many good memories for you. It is natural to worry about keeping this sentimental property after your spouse passes away. You might also worry about the valuable property and finances your spouse left behind, and how that impacts your financial situation.

So, what happens to the property your spouse owned, as well as the property you shared after they pass away? If they did not make a will, then their property and estate will be distributed through intestate succession.

In these cases, under California law, how you distribute property often depends entirely on how you owned the property:

  1. Community property: In intestate succession, you will almost always obtain your spouse’s portion of the community property you shared. This includes a wide range of assets, including your home, their income, any business investments they owned and other assets you acquired during your marriage.
  2. Separate property: Although you usually are the first to inherit assets from your spouse, other family members may have the right to inherit your spouse’s separate property as well. For example, if you and your spouse had two children, then the separate property might be divided equally between the three of you.

Understanding how community and separate property work in intestate succession is important to help you through this stressful process. However, this is only a brief overview. Intestate succession is often more complicated than it seems.

It is often beneficial to consult an experienced attorney to understand the process, help you and your family move forward with confidence and protect your spouse’s wishes.

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