Understanding California Inheritance Rights

Having a valid Will in place is an established way to ensure that, after your passing, both your legacy and the financial interests of your property will be adequately protected. One way a Will can achieve these goals is by providing a guarantee that your assets and property will be transferred to your heirs and beneficiaries in an orderly manner and strictly according to your wishes.

Still, more than half of American citizens don’t have this important estate planning document. When a person dies without a valid Will, their property is distributed not according to their wishes and preferences, but rather according to the local and state laws. The court-supervised process that governs the distribution of wealth in such cases is called intestate succession. In this article, you will discover the most important laws that regulate intestate succession in California.

When the Deceased Isn’t Survived by Close Family Members

If a person dies without a Will, the first thing that the court will try to establish is whether the deceased person is survived by close family members such as a spouse, descendants, parents, or siblings. California intestate succession laws determine a certain algorithm that helps the court divide the property according to different scenarios based on which close family members of the decedent are still alive. The most common scenarios include:

  • The decedent is survived only by a spouse: If the spouse is the only surviving heir – that is, there are no surviving children, parents, or siblings – he or she will inherit the decedent’s probate estate in its entirety.
  • The decedent is survived by a spouse and children: The spouse will inherit all the decedent’s community property (for an explanation of community property see below) and half or a third of the separate property (depending on the number of children). The surviving children will inherit either the other half or two-thirds of the decedent’s separate property.
  • The decedent is survived by children but no spouse: The surviving children will inherit the decedent’s probate estate in its entirety. Each child will have the right to an equal portion of the estate according to the number of surviving children.
  • The decedent is survived by a spouse and parents but not children: The spouse will inherit all the decedent’s community property and half of the separate property. The other half will be inherited by the parents. The same rule applies if the decedent is survived by a spouse and siblings rather than parents.
  • The decedent is survived by siblings but no spouse, children, or parents The surviving siblings will inherit the decedent’s probate estate in its entirety.

Community Property vs. Separate Property

California intestate laws make an important distinction between community property and separate property when taking a deceased person’s assets into consideration. If a decedent had a spouse, all property and assets purchased or obtained in any other way (with an exception of gifts or inheritance) during their marriage are deemed community property. Property and assets acquired before marriage are deemed separate property.

When the Deceased Isn’t Survived by Close Family Members

If no surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings can be found, a deceased person’s property will pass to more distant relatives such as nephews or nieces, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so forth. If no surviving relatives of the decedent can be found at all, their property will be returned to the state.

Obtain Trusted Estate Planning Advice

Most people would rather have their estate divided and transferred to appropriate heirs according to their wishes rather than an impersonal legal process. Still, some may hesitate to draft a Will and take proper care of their estate plan simply because they do not know where to start. Admittedly, estate planning may seem overwhelming. However, you can rest assured that you don’t have to carry that weight by yourself. The experienced Solan, Park & Robello estate planning attorneys can help you create a Will and make the best use of other estate planning tools available. Contact us today to schedule a consultation on your estate planning needs.

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Solan, Park & Robello

Solan, Park & Robello is a full-service probate and estate planning firm offering experienced counsel in a wide range of estate planning matters—from preparation to administration to litigation.

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