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What Will Happen to Your Estate if You Die Without a Will?

What Will Happen to Your Estate if You Die Without a Will?

When you die without a will, it means that state law will determine who will get your estate unless specific assets have been titled to go to someone. Without a will, you are considered under the law to have died intestate. The state’s intestate succession hierarchy will then determine who will get your estate and how much they will get, regardless of what you may have wished. All states have laws on their books for those who have died intestate, including California.

While the main purpose of intestate laws was to set out a standard way to distribute an estate that most closely resembled what the average person would want, it can be quite different from what you may want or have envisioned for yourself and your beneficiaries. In some cases, it may not be what you would have wanted at all, especially if you have been estranged from particular family members. But the fact remains that when you die without the benefit of a will, the state has the final say in who gets your estate.

What Assets Are Exempt From Intestate Laws?

There are some assets that get passed outside the probate process and are consequently exempt from intestate succession. Certain assets, such as real estate, may be specifically titled to pass to another party automatically. Other assets may be held in joint accounts or accounts that have a pay on death beneficiary, such as life insurance policies or some retirement accounts. Any assets that are held in a trust will also not be subject to probate and will pass according to the terms of the trust.

What is Intestate Succession in California?

Intestate succession is what the probate court will use to determine in what order and how much of your estate will go to specific surviving family members when there is no will available.

Considering intestate succession in California, if you die when you are married, but have no will, the estate will be divided as follows:

  • The surviving spouse will get all community property. In California, community property is anything that the couple owns together. While they are both alive, each spouse owns half of their community property. Upon the death of one spouse, the other will then get the deceased partner’s share of the community property.
  • If the estate includes other assets outside of community property, if there are no children, the surviving spouse will receive all of those assets as well.
  • When there are children, the surviving spouse will receive a portion of the remaining property depending on the number of surviving children. If there is one child, the spouse will receive 50% of the remaining property with the child receiving the other 50%. If there are more children, the estate will be divided among children and the surviving spouse equally.

If you are unmarried and have no valid will when you die

  • Your estate will get distributed to any surviving children in equal shares.
  • If there are no children, the estate will go to your parents.
  • If there are no surviving parents, the estate will go to your siblings.
  • If there are no surviving siblings, the estate will go to their children.
  • After that, the estate will go to grandparents, with the oldest generation with any surviving children next on the list.

If you die with no next of kin, your estate goes to the state.

This may not be remotely how you envisioned your estate being distributed. And yet when you die without a will, this is how it will be distributed in Orange County, California, like it or not.

Having a Will is a Fundamental Estate Planning Tool

Having a will is one of the fundamentals of good basic estate planning. Anyone who has assets or minor children should have a valid will. You have worked hard for what you have and you should have a say in where it goes and who gets the benefit of it. But without a will, you don’t have that voice.

We can help. At the Law Offices of Roshni T. Desai, we take pride in helping each client with will creation and other essential estate planning needs specifically tailored for their unique circumstances. Call us at 714.694.1200 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation to discuss your estate planning needs.

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