Writing a will can be scary because it requires you to think about your own mortality. It can be just as frightening to think about what will happen if you die without a will. You might have heard that the state takes all your assets after you die without a will, but in fact, that rarely happens. If you die without a will you will not be able to choose who receives your assets. Instead, your closest relatives or heirs inherit your wealth according to intestate succession laws. The state only gets the money if you do not have any surviving family members, not even cousins.

Probating the estate of a person who dies without a will is not as intimidating as it sounds. You do not even need a lawyer unless you anticipate that there will be significant disputes about the estate, or unless the person who died without a will was very wealthy. The best way to reduce the stress of probate without adding unnecessary expenses is to hire a registered legal document assistant to prepare your probate documents.

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…or continue reading the article below to learn more about what happens when you die without a will.

California Laws When You Die Without a Will

Intestate succession laws control which surviving family members of the decedent inherit their assets after probate when the person did not leave a will. The statutory laws identify the decedent’s relatives that should inherit the money. Who inherits what depends on which relatives are still alive when the person dies. Generally speaking,

  • When a decedent is married and has children, the spouse receives part of the estate and the children receive the rest.
  • If the decedent is unmarried at the time of death and had children, the laws dived the estate equally among the children.
  • When a decedent is unmarried and childless, the person’s parents inherit the estate.  If the decedent’s parents are not living, the person’s siblings inherit equal portions of the estate.
  • If the person does not have a surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings, then the person’s grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins can inherit.

Keep in mind, there are many other variations of how intestate laws work. You can read more about California’s intestate succession laws here.

Surprisingly, the probate process for a person who dies without a will is not more complicated then if they had a will. Keep in mind, however, that not all estates must go through a full probate. For example, if the value of the estate value is less than $166,250, it is eligible for simplified probate proceedings instead of full probate.

Assets That Don’t Go Through Probate

Some assets are not part of the estate and do not go through probate. Non-probate assets pass on to their designated beneficiary much more quickly and less expensively than assets that go through probate. The following are examples of non-probate assets:

  • Assets placed in a trust
  • Life insurance policies, with a named beneficiary
  • Property owned jointly with the surviving spouse or joint tenant
  • Retirement accounts with a named beneficiary
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts

Probate can be Stress-Free, Even if Someone Dies Without a Will

Having a will makes sure that your estate goes to the people you want. As mentioned above, when you die without a will, California law will control who gets your assets. Be aware, however, that the probate process (with a will or without a will)  is basically the same. Either way, if the estate is large, you most likely will need to file probate. You can, however, minimize the stress of probate by hiring a registered legal document assistant to prepare your probate forms. If someone has died without a will, and you need to file probate, contact A People’s Choice. More importantly, we can make the process stress free. Give us a call today at 800-747-2780.

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