Estate planning is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone. If you don’t have a will, however, your assets will still be passed on to your relatives. California, like all states, has what are known as intestacy laws that dictate who gets your property in the event that you die without leaving a will.
California Intestacy Laws
Dying without a will is also called dying intestate. When a person dies intestate, the California laws of intestate succession are used to determine who inherits the property and assets that make up that person’s estate.
The first determining factor in intestate succession is whether the deceased person was married. In California, a married person’s assets can consist of community property, or joint property of the marriage, and separate property, which is the person’s own property. An unmarried person will not have community property.
Under intestacy laws, spouses, children, parents, and siblings all stand to inherit when a relative dies intestate. When a person is survived by only one category of these relatives, inheritance is rather straightforward:
- If there is a spouse but no children, parents, or siblings—the spouse inherits 100% of the property
- If there are children but no spouse, parents, or siblings—the children inherit 100% of the property, divided evenly
- If there are parents but no spouse, children, or siblings—the parents inherit 100% of the property, divided evenly
- If there are siblings but no spouse, children, or parents—the siblings inherit 100% of the property, divided evenly
If the deceased leaves behind multiple kinds of relatives, things get a bit more complicated:
- If there is a spouse and children—the spouse inherits 100% of community property\
- If there is 1 child—the spouse and the child each get 1/2 of the separate property
- If there are 2 or more children—the spouse gets 1/3 of the separate property, and the other 2/3 is divided evenly among the children
- If there is a spouse and parents—the spouse inherits 100% of the community property and 1/2 of the separate property; the parents get 1/2 of the separate property, divided evenly
- If there is a spouse and siblings, but no parents—the spouse inherits 100% of the community property and 1/2 of the separate property; the siblings get 1/2 of the separate property, divided evenly
In the event that a person dies without a spouse, children, parents, or siblings, the estate will pass to the decedent’s grandparents, or, if they are not living, to their descendants, including any aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, or cousins. The intestacy laws will continue to extend to more distant relatives if necessary.
While estate planning may seem complicated, determining who will get your property if you die without a will can be even more complicated. If you leave the division of your assets up to the California intestacy laws, your property may end up going to someone you never intended or desired.
Creating a will is the most basic and essential step to ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of according to your wishes after you’re gone. The experienced attorneys at The Law Offices of Omar Gastelum & Associates are here to help guide you through the estate planning process and answer any questions you may have about wills or other estate planning tools. Contact us today to discuss how to best plan for your future.