What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will in CA?

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Thorough estate planning is essential for ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes and avoiding unnecessary taxes and delays in distribution. Nevertheless, many people put off estate planning until it is too late. While your family members still typically receive your property even if you die without an estate plan, the distribution may not follow your actual intentions. Moreover, some of your property may become unnecessarily tied up in probate, delaying your family’s ability to use and enjoy your legacy. 

As is the case in most states, California’s Probate Code controls the disposition of property not covered by a valid will. This can include cases in which there is no will and cases in which a will is incomplete and does not address all the property in the estate: 

  • A surviving spouse or domestic partner is entitled to all of the deceased’s non-community property if the person had no surviving parents, siblings, children or grandchildren. 
  • A surviving spouse or domestic partner is entitled to half of the non-community property if the deceased leaves a surviving parent or parents, siblings or half-siblings, or one surviving child or grandchild. 
  • A surviving spouse or domestic partner is entitled to one-third if the deceased was survived by more than one child, one child and one or more grandchildren, or grandchildren from two or more predeceased children. 
  • Any portion that does not go to a spouse or domestic partner goes first to children and other issue by degrees, then to the parents if there are no descendants, then to siblings and half-siblings if there are no surviving parents. 

These rules continue from this point and become more complicated as they advance into more remote areas of the family tree. They do not, however, take into account any wishes the deceased expressed except through a valid will.