What Happens if Someone Passes Away without a Will?

Most people know that a Last Will and Testament is a legal document that is used to express your wishes about what you want to happen when you pass away. A Will can include information about what you want to happen to your assets, your children, your remains, and much more. When in place, a Will makes the decisions that need to be made in the days, weeks, and months following a death much easier. If someone in California passes away without a Will, however, the process will be much different for their loved ones.

Dying Without a Will (called “Intestate”)

When someone passes away without a Will, and they have enough assets, their estate will go through California probate court to determine what happens to their assets. Probate court is often necessary even with a Will, but without one, the court will distribute to the heirs at law rather than the beneficiaries of the Will. In this situation, assets will pass to family members based on the deceased’s family situation. The following are the most common situations:

  • Spouse & Children – If you are survived by a spouse and children the spouse will inherit all community property. In addition, people are usually shocked to find out that all of the deceased parent’s separate property will be split between the surviving spouse (even if it’s a step-parent) and children with the spouse getting either ½ or ⅓ of the assets depending on whether there is more than one child.
  • Survived by a Spouse – When only a spouse is still living (no children, parents, or siblings) then the spouse will inherit everything.
  • Spouse and Parent(s) – In this situation, the spouse will inherit all community property, and half of the separate property. The surviving parent or parents will receive the other half of the separate property.
  • Spouse and Sibling(s) – If you are survived by a spouse and one or more siblings (but no parents or children) the spouse will inherit all community property, plus half the separate property. All surviving siblings will split the other half of the separate property, with each one getting an equal share.
  • Survived Only by Children – In this situation, the natural (and adopted) children will split all assets evenly.

 When reading through these situations, most people will quickly see many situations where the probate court would not distribute assets in the way they would like. Whether you are just getting started in life, or well into your golden years, you should have your wishes made clear so you don’t have to worry about what will happen to your assets and your loved ones. If you don’t already have a Will in place, make sure you contact Lawvex to speak with a Fresno estate planning attorney and get started right away.

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