California Intestate Succession Laws – When you Die Without a Will
In California, a person who dies without a will dies “intestate”. Thus, California laws of intestate succession determine who of the decedent’s surviving relatives will inherit their estate.
Determining heirs and their inheritance involves answering a series of questions about the decedent. For example, some of these questions pertain to the decedent’s marriage status and whether they have living or pre-deceased children. The answers to these questions help the court identify which heirs have priority in the line of succession according to California law.
If the decedent was married…
If a married decedent dies without a will in California, all of their community property interest will go to the surviving spouse. Plus, the surviving spouse can file a spousal property petition to prove ownership.
In the case of a married decedent, the court will distribute their personal property as follows:
- The surviving spouse will receive all the decedent’s property if the decedent does not have any surviving children.
- The surviving spouse will receive ½ of the separate property if the decedent has only one surviving child, and ⅓ of the property if the decedent has two surviving children, and so on.
If the decedent was unmarried…
An unmarried decedent’s surviving children will take the decedent’s assets in equal shares. However, if there are no surviving children, the estate will go to the decedent’s parents.
If the parents are deceased, the estate will go to the decedent’s brothers and sisters. In the case the decedent’s brothers and sisters have predeceased the decedent, their children will inherit a share of the estate.
If the decedent has no parents, brothers, or sisters, their grandparents will inherit the estate. Ultimately, the oldest generation with surviving children will inherit the property.
As you can see, intestate succession laws can distribute property in a way completely different from what the decedent may have intended when they were alive.
If the decedent had dependent children…
If the decedent had planned accordingly, a nominated guardian would normally get custody of minor children. However, without a will, the decedent parent has no say in who will be guardian of their child or children.
Unfortunately, without a pre-designated guardian for minor children of deceased parents, the court will appoint a guardian. Typically, the court appoints a grandparent to care for the child. However, if the child has no grandparents, the court will appoint the nearest relative.
If the child has several relatives of the same degree, the court will appoint the best suited relative to serve as guardian. Unfortunately, if you die without a will in California, the care and destiny of your minor children will be out of your control.
Settling the Estate of an Intestate Decedent
If you are an estate’s representative, you may need to file a final personal income tax return for the decedent as well as an income tax return for the estate. Additionally, you may have to pay federal estate taxes for very large estates.
More specifically, you must pay income taxes for the decedent and file a personal income tax return for the current year up to the date of their death. Furthermore, if the estate earned a gross income over $600 during the tax year or if a beneficiary is a nonresident alien, you must also file a separate estate tax return (Form 1041).
Note, 99.5% of all estates will not owe any federal gift/estate tax. However, as of 2015, if the estate is valued over $5.43 million, you must file a federal tax return and pay any taxes within nine months.
A People’s Choice Can Help if Your Loved One Dies Without a Will
If a loved one has died without a will, you will probably need some professional help to administer and settle the estate. Contact A People’s Choice for more information on how we can help you with the probate process.
A People’s Choice can save you thousands of dollars compared to hiring an attorney – but don’t take our word for it! Use our California probate calculator to see just how much you will save using our services, and give us a call at 800-747-2780 today.