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What happens if you die without a will?

  • By: Lorilee Desantis
  • Published: August 21, 2020

If you die without a will, your property will have to go through the probate process, if your assets are sufficient to trigger the probate process and the transfer of your property is not controlled by the title to the property (ex: joint tenancy). Your assets will be distributed through the courts and will go to the people determined under California’s intestacy laws (aka “intestate succession”). The court will appoint an administrator to handle the estate. In addition, the court will appoint a guardian for any orphaned minor children. If you die without a will (i.e., “intestate”), the State of California has already predetermined how your property will be distributed. Contrary to popular belief, a surviving spouse does not necessarily inherit everything. For example, a surviving spouse may only get one-half (1/2) or one-third (1/3) of the decedent’s (deceased person’s) separate property, depending on if the decedent died leaving children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, or nieces/nephews. A surviving spouse will inherit the decedent’s share of any community or quasi-community property.

If the decedent’s children are minors and they receive an interest in the separate property, a guardianship must be created for the children’s funds and the guardian must report annually to the court until the children reach age 18. If the children are orphans, the court will also need to appoint a guardian to raise the children.

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