Intestate succession refers to the scenario when a person dies and leaves no will, no trust, no instrument or written instructions whatsoever to dictate what will happen to the person or their things once they are gone. Under those conditions, state law will determine where that persons things will go. No, the state does not immediately take all of your things for themselves, they have to jump through some hoops first. Of course, you can not change the state rules short of legislative action, and no one can affect the distribution of their things once they have passed away. You can do that ahead of time with an estate plan.
If someone dies intestate, then their assets are distributed as follows:
- If you die with a spouse and no children, then everything goes to the spouse.
- If you die with a spouse and children, then the community property goes to the spouse, and the non-community property gets divided up between the spouse and the children (it varies depending on the number of children).
- If you die with no spouse, then it goes to your children. If one of your children passes away, but leaves you with grandchildren or lineal descendants, then the grandchild takes your deceased child’s share by right of representation. This same formula continues down through your lineal descendants until someone living at each generation takes a gift. If one of your children passes away but does not leave you with any lineal descendants, then their share will extinguish and your other children’s shares will increase (if any).
- If you die with no living spouse and no living lineal descendants, then your parents will get your estate.
- If you die with no living spouse, lineal descendants, and no living parents, then your siblings will get your estate. If any of them are not living, then their living lineal descendants (your nieces and nephews, or their children, or their children’s children) will take the estate by right of representation as above.
- If you die with no living spouse, lineal descendants, no living parents or siblings, or lineal descendants from your parents, then your grandparents will take your estate. If they are not alive, then it will go to their lineal descendants as above.
The foregoing is just a summary of how California defines an “heir” under the law. This is not the end of the line, and the complete rule is set out under California Probate Code section 6400, available here: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=PROB&division=6.&title=&part=2.&chapter=1.&article= Of course, if you do not like your heirs, then you will want to get a will or trust to change where your things go when you pass away.
The process of distributing a persons estate when they die “intestate” (which is to say, without a will or trust), is commonly called “probate.” The assets will be probated through the California court system. It is costly, time consuming, and not always very efficient, but sometimes an executor or beneficiary has no choice.
Law Office of Merrill A. Hanson is available to assist you with your probate needs. We can handle the probate process for your from beginning to end, directing you as a personal representative of the estate, and ensuring that the proper procedures are followed to finalize and distribute your loved one’s estate in as efficient a manner as practical. Learn more about estate administration.
Originally published May 30, 2018 by Merrill A. Hanson. This is not nor is it intended to be legal advice. Seek out an attorney for your own unique legal situation.
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