What Happens in California Probate if you Pass Away Without a Will?

Even if you don’t think you have enough property or assets for it to be worthwhile to craft a Last Will and Testament, you might be persuaded differently if you understood how complicated it can get for your loved ones. After you pass away, your estate will be at the mercy of the probate courts to divide up your property. These courts are generally bound by California’s intestate succession laws in deciding who your beneficiaries should be.

An Overview of Intestate Succession in California

These laws apply only to your property and assets that would otherwise be handled by your Will. Some notable exceptions include certain retirement accounts, joint property that someone else co-owns, and assets you have transferred to a living trust. Property that is governed by intestate succession laws must pass through the probate courts in California. 

Who Gets What?

If you pass away without a Will and you are married, then your surviving spouse will almost always inherit your community property. Property and assets acquired during your marriage is considered community property (with rare exceptions). Your spouse will usually get all community property even if you have surviving children, nephews, nieces, or grandchildren. However, any children or grandchildren will be entitled to separate property. 

Separate property is property that you received and possessed prior to your marriage. Some assets you acquire during your marriage are considered separate property, such as an inheritance from a blood relative. The state’s intestate laws allot half of your separate property to your surviving spouse and the rest to be split between your children. If you had foster children or were the caretaker of children that you never legally adopted, they will not automatically receive a share of your property (community or separate). Intestate succession laws allow for your surviving grandchildren to receive property if their parent (your child) is deceased.

What About my Debts?

Legally, estates are considered a separate entity from the owner and are therefore subject to tax liabilities. These taxes (estate and personal income) are on top of any debts you might have incurred during your life. When you do not leave a will behind, your estate will automatically be used to pay off those debts. Estates with especially large values are also subject to the federal estate tax. 

Contact Us

The probate process is complicated enough for your loved ones even if you leave a Will, but if you neglect to craft one during your lifetime, the intestate succession laws dictate who your beneficiaries will be. Even if you verbally expressed your preferences on which individuals you want to inherit your estate, the state does not consider this legally binding. 

As uncomfortable as it might be to think about making plans for your eventual demise, you (and your loved ones) will be glad you did. If you want to shore up your estate plan now or need help with a Will-less relative’s estate, please call us at 909-256-6702 today for a free consultation.

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