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Who inherits from their estate if the deceased doesn’t have a will?

by | Feb 10, 2024 | Estate Planning

One of the first steps that family members generally take when a loved one dies is to locate their will. Estate planning documents may be in the possession of someone’s lawyer or in a safe in their primary residence. Locating the most recent estate planning paperwork that someone drafted prior to their passing can provide family members with crucial guidance during a difficult time.

Unfortunately, not all families in California quickly find estate planning documents. Sometimes, they search for days, only to realize there is no will or other paperwork. Those families may then worry about what may happen to the property of their deceased loved one.

California law takes over unplanned estates

Someone preparing for their golden years or seeking to protect vulnerable family members can create estate planning documents that give very clear instructions and may empower certain people to handle certain responsibilities. Without those documents, state law determines what happens with an individual’s property after their death.

Intestate succession laws specifically outline who has the right of inheritance when someone dies without a will. In California, there are community property laws. Therefore, someone’s spouse has a very strong right of inheritance from their estate. If someone also has surviving children, their children may potentially inherit from their estate as well. Whether their spouse is also a parent to those children or not can influence how the California probate courts divide their estate.

Someone with no spouse but surviving children can expect that their children should inherit equally from their estate in most cases. If someone dies with neither a spouse nor surviving progeny, then other family members may inherit their property. The law allows grandparents, cousins and other relatives to inherit when someone doesn’t have any closer surviving family members.

In many cases, intestate succession laws tackle probate matters with a broad-stroke approach. As such, those who would like to leave resources for someone other than their immediate family members, provide financial support for charitable causes or disinherit one of their children may need to prioritize creating valid estate planning paperwork before their incapacitation or death.