When a person dies in California, their estate must go through probate. This process ensures the property and assets transfer to surviving heirs as the decedent intended. Therefore, courts usually reference the decedent’s will during probate to determine how to distribute the estate. However, filing a California probate without a will is possible, and is actually a surprisingly straightforward process. In fact, most people can do it without the help of an attorney!

Applying for Probate With an Invalid or Missing Will

Probate is the legal process of transferring legal title of property from the estate of the deceased to their beneficiaries. Typically, when a person passes away with a will, the designated executor submits the will to court to be probated.  However, when there is no will, a representative of the decedent known as the administrator must apply for probate.

Upon approval, the court will distribute the decedent’s estate according to California’s intestate succession laws. Note that intestate succession laws also apply if a person passes away with an invalid or non-comprehensive will; for example, if part of an estate is missing from a will. That said, under California intestate succession laws, a personal representative can be appointed to administer the estate. In this position, the administrator will:

  • receive all legal claims against the estate;
  • pay creditors;
  • manage the estate’s expenses; and
  • find all heirs to the estate

How Does California Probate Intestate Succession Law Work?

California probate court will decide who is a legal heir to using intestate succession laws. Then, once they’ve determined the legal heirs, the court will identify what and how property or assets will be distributed between them.

More specifically, California probate laws provide that if the decedent was married with no children, their spouse will receive all of the property the two shared. On the other hand, if the decedent and their 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 intestate property division 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 receives Bob’s interest in their residential properties and becomes the sole owner. However, Bob’s separate property, the collection of Corvettes, is divided between Jane and the couple’s three children. As a result, each receives a ¼ share interest in the Corvette collection.

For more detailed information about California probate intestate succession laws, estate distribution, and heirs, check out the chart below:

California’s Intestate Succession Law: Property Division Between Heirs

Deceased Relatives Property Distribution
Children only survive the deceased The deceased’s children will inherit the property and assets shared evenly between them.
Spouse only survive the deceased The deceased’s spouse will inherit all property and assets.
Parents only survive the deceased The deceased’s parents will inherit all property and assets.
Siblings only survive the deceased The deceased’s siblings will inherit the property and assets shared evenly between them.
Spouse and children survive the deceased

The deceased’s spouse will inherit all the community property and  1/3 of the separate property. The children will inherit ⅔ of the separate property.

Probate an Estate Without a Will – and Without an Attorney

Luckily, you do not need an attorney to probate an estate without a will in California. However, if you require help preparing probate forms, contact A People’s Choice. We provide legal document preparation services to residents throughout California and file probate in all counties. Plus, working with us will save you thousands of dollars in attorneys fees. In fact, most clients that need to file a California probate without a will find our services an inexpensive and stress-free way to get through the process.

A People’s Choice can prepare all the necessary probate forms and can file them on your behalf. Plus, we make sure to meet all court deadlines to keep you on track. Give us a call today at 1-800-747-2780 to learn more about how we can help.

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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How to File Probate in Each California County