California inheritance laws

Many people do not have a will. In like manner, many people die without a will. As a result, when a person who lives in California passes away, their property and estate will be distributed based on inheritance laws found in Division 6 of the California Probate Code. More specifically, California inheritance laws also called intestate succession laws, provide how the decedent’s property passes to his/her immediate family members or other heirs down the line of genealogy. Keep in mind, assets held in joint tenancy or as community property with survivorship will go to the surviving party. In the same fashion, beneficiaries appointed on insurance policies and retirement accounts will also receive their benefit outside the probate process.

A People’s Choice has helped thousands of people settle the probate estate of a loved one. In this regard, below is an overview of California inheritance laws which describe what you may receive from your loved one’s estate if they die without a will.

Understanding Community vs. Separate Property Distribution

Property purchased or acquired during the marriage is considered community property. On the other hand, assets acquired before marriage are separate property. California inheritance laws also consider gifts and inheritances given to a spouse during marriage as separate property. It is important to realize this includes gifts acquired during the marriage.

A spouse can obtain a community property interest in property in many different ways. For example, community property consists of the salary of the deceased person. Also, a spouse may have a community property interest in all real estate purchased during the marriage in the decedent’s name. Keep in mind, a spouse can have a community property interest in property not titled in both names! Alternatively, a spouse accumulates a “quasi-community property interest” in property when community funds pay the mortgage, taxes and insurance on pre-marital separate property. Finally, decedent’s personal property acquired during marriage is also considered community property. This includes property not titled as community property with right of survivorship.

Distribution of Property Under California Inheritance Laws

California inheritance laws determine who gets what when you die. In other words, California inheritance laws control what surviving heirs receive the decedent’s assets. For example, under California inheritance laws, if a person dies without a will, the laws will distribute their property as follows:

  1. Spouse but no children, parents, or siblings – The surviving spouse will receive all of his/her community property assets. Spouse and parents split separate property assets.
  2. Children but no spouse – Surviving children will receive all of his/her assets proportionately. For example, three surviving children would each inherit a 1/3 share of the estate).
  3. Spouse and children – Surviving spouse inherits all the community property and 1/2 of the separate property. The amount of separate property inherited depends on the number of surviving children.
  4. Parents but no children, spouse, or siblings – Surviving parents receive all the decedent’s assets
  5. Siblings but no children, spouse, or parents – Surviving siblings inherit the assets proportionately.
  6. Spouse and siblings, but no parents – Surviving spouse and siblings inherit the decedent’s personal property.

California’s intestate succession laws do not provide rights of inheritance for stepchildren. If the decedent has no surviving heirs, his/her property will escheat to the state. California law requires surviving heirs to outlive the decedent by 120 hours to receive an inheritance under intestate laws. Contact A People’s Choice for more information on how to probate your loved one’s estate without a will.

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