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What happens if you die without an estate plan in California?

On Behalf of | Sep 18, 2020 | Estate Planning

It is basic human nature to want to delay handling difficult and unpleasant tasks. Estate planning means thinking about what happens after you die, which is far from an enjoyable pastime. However, when you don’t sit down to handle estate planning decisions, you leave everything up to the state of California.

Particularly for those who aren’t married to their romantic partner or who have strained relationships with their biological or legal families, not having an estate plan is frankly dangerous. If you die without a last will, chances are good that the people you love won’t receive your assets, while people you may not enjoy very much could potentially inherit everything.

How does the state handle a death without a last will?

When someone dies without a last will, they have died intestate. California has specific laws that outline the succession of someone’s assets if they die intestate. Intestate succession law in California favors spouses and children.

A spouse has a statutory right of inheritance and will receive a significant portion of the estate. The exact percentage that they receive will depend on other surviving family members, including the number of children. If there is no spouse and there are no children, parents, siblings and other close family members are likely the ones set to inherit what a person leaves behind.

For individuals who have difficult or unpleasant relationships with their families, realizing that their family will get all their assets if they die without a will might be enough to motivate them to take on estate planning.

There is always time to revisit your plan in the future

One reason people frequently cite for delaying the creation of an estate plan is concern about changes in their life circumstances. If they hope, for example, to get married or adopt in the next few years, waiting until they expand their family might seem like a reasonable approach.

However, there is no way of knowing when you might experience an accident or become incredibly sick. Estate plans are relatively easy to update and change as your family circumstances change throughout life. It makes more sense to plan for your current needs and then revisit your plan rather than leave the people you love vulnerable in case you die without a last will.