• California Probate Without a Will

California Probate Without a Will

When a person dies in California, his/her estate must go through the probate process in order for the estate’s property and assets to transfer to the surviving heirs. Filing a California probate without a will is a straightforward process and most people can do it without the help of an attorney. Read on to learn more about probating an estate without a will in California.

Applying for Probate When There is No Will or Will is Invalid

Probate is the legal process of transferring legal title of property from the estate of the deceased to his/her beneficiaries. When a person passes away with a will, the designated executor submits the will to court to be probated.  When a representative of the decedent, also known as the administrator, applies for probate when there is no will, the decedent’s estate will be distributed according to California’s intestate succession laws. Intestate succession laws also apply if a person passes away without having a valid will or if only part of his/her estate is covered by a valid will.

Under California intestate succession laws, a personal representative can be appointed to administer the estate. The administrator will be required to receive all legal claims against the estate, pay creditors, and manage the estate’s expenses. 

The administrator will be required to find all heirs to the estate. California probate laws will decide who is a legal heir. Once the legal heirs are determined, the probate court will identify what and how property or assets will be distributed between the heirs.

California Probate Intestate Succession; Who Gets Estate?

As mentioned above, under California probate intestate succession laws, the decedent’s legal heirs will receive a share of the decedent’s estate once probated. California probate laws provide that if the decedent was married with no children, his/her spouse will receive all of the property the two shared. If the decedent and his/her spouse had children, the spouse would receive all of the community property they owned, and the decedent’s separate property would be divided evenly between the spouse and children.

Here is an example to illustrate the intestate property division described above in a California probate without a will:

Bob and Jane were married for 25 years and had three children. They both owned two residential properties. As separate property Bob owned a collection of Corvettes. Bob passed away and did not have a will.  His wife, Jane and his three children survived him. In accordance with California’s intestate succession laws, Jane would receive Bob’s interest in their residential properties and become the sole owner. Bob’s separate property, the collection of Corvettes, would be divided between Jane and their 3 children. Each would receive a ¼ share interest in the Corvette collection.

The chart below describes the California probate intestate succession of property and assets of a decedent who dies without a will. Based on the decedent’s surviving relatives, we have identified the share a surviving relative may receive in the event his/her loved one passes away under California probate law:

Deceased Relatives Property Distribution
Children only survive the deceased The deceased children will inherit the property and assets. The property will be distributed evenly between them.
Spouse only survive the deceased The deceased spouse will inherit his/her property and assets.
Parents only survive the deceased The deceased parents will inherit his/her property and assets.
Siblings only survive the deceased The deceased siblings will inherit the property and assets. The property will be distributed evenly between them.
Spouse and children survive the deceased The deceased spouse will inherit all the community property and  1/3 of the separate property.

The children will inherit ⅔ of the separate property.

Do I Need An Attorney to Probate Estate Without a Will?

You do not need an attorney to probate an estate without a will in California. If you need help preparing the probate legal forms, contact A People’s Choice for help. We not only provide legal document preparation services to residents of Ventura and Simi Valley, but throughout California and file probate in all counties.

Most clients that need to file a California probate without a will find using our services a very inexpensive and stress free way to get through the complex probate process. Our clients typically have few issues that need attorney expertise when probating their loved one’s estate. The probate process can take between 6 to 9 months to complete and there are many forms involved. A People’s Choice can prepare all the forms and can file them on your behalf to make sure  all deadlines are met during the process. Give us a call (1-800-747-2780) to learn more about how we can help you.

Get help with your California legal documents today!

A People’s Choice can save you hundreds of dollars by preparing your legal documents instead of an expensive attorney!


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By |2018-01-18T15:47:23-07:00September 8th, 2015|Probate|4 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. william rich March 26, 2019 at 8:42 am

    Our brother died Feb 28, 2019 without a will; how long do we have to make the first filing?

    • Sandy McCarthy March 29, 2019 at 9:55 pm

      There are several different probate options in California. Give our office a call to provide more details. You can reach us at 800-747-2780.

  2. lanei baley December 11, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    My stepfather has claimed all of my mother’s belongings but not by court process. My brother and I know mom did not want this to happen we are filing probate to get our fair share. Is this the proper procedure,. Mom did not have a will that we know of.

    She told me she was filing a living

    • Sandy McCarthy December 13, 2018 at 2:44 am

      If your mother prepared a living trust most likely she had a will that went along with that. Usually those documents are prepared at the same time. she had a trust then most likely her husband was the named beneficiary. As a child, you can certainly request a copy of the trust from your stepfather.

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