Dying intestate, or without a will, is unfortunately very common. If you die without a will, your property will go through a court process called probate and will ultimately be distributed according to California’s intestacy laws. Here are some common events that may happen if you die intestate:

  1. Your immediate next of kin, whomever they are, will likely inherit your property first. If you die intestate, everything goes to your next of kin. Your next of kin are the people who have the closest relation to you. If you’re married, then that’s your spouse. After that, your biological children. If you’re not married, it’s your closest blood relatives or equivalent. For example, say you die intestate without a spouse or children, or parents. Your next of kin could be your adopted younger sister. She will inherit everything after the estate pays your debts and taxes.
  • Your heirs may be hit with inheritance taxes (that could have been avoided). The relatives who inherit from you may be subject to an inheritance tax. While this won’t likely wipe out their inheritance completely, proper estate planning could have made this a non-issue. For example, a California estate lawyer could have helped you create a trust that would lower or even eliminate death taxes that may have been owed.
  • That son- or daughter-in-law you don’t like will get your property before that niece or nephew you do like. Marital property owned by your children is governed by the laws of the states they live in, not you. If they live in a communal property state, they’re sharing the inheritance, 50/50. While the laws are different in every state, property acquired during marriage by either spouse may be marital property, especially if used for the benefit of both spouses.
  • A little bit of money up for grabs can have a cooling effect on interfamilial relationships. In a perfect world, family members would all get along, never be jealous, and always do right by each other. This isn’t a perfect world. Intestacy laws don’t take into account the relationships the deceased had with anyone or what the deceased orally promised to someone. Even if widowed Uncle Bob told you he wanted you to have his ’65 Thunderbird, without a will, the car is going to his son…who doesn’t even have a driver’s license.

If you’ve recently lost a loved one who did not have a will and you have questions about the administration of his or her estate, you should speak to a California probate attorney for guidance.  If you need assistance, we invite you to contact our law firm at (949) 260-1400 to schedule a consultation.