When a person dies without a will or trust in place, they die intestate. That means that the probate courts would use California laws on intestate succession to determine who inherits the deceased’s property. It is based on degree of relation.
The first question always asked is if the person died while married or not. The inheritance laws are different depending on the answer to this question.
When a person dies and is not married at the time, his or her children (natural or adopted) would share in the estate in equal parts. If one of the children had died prior to the parent, then any descendants of the child would share equally in that child’s portion.
If the deceased had no children, then the estate would go to his or her parents.
If the deceased’s parents were no longer living, the estate would go to the parents’ issue. That means the deceased’s brothers and sisters would inherit. If one of the siblings had died prior to the deceased, that sibling’s descendants would share equally in that sibling’s portion.
If the deceased had no siblings, then the estate would go to his or her grandparents, etc. The rule for intestate succession is the oldest generation with surviving issue will inherit, or their issue will inherit in proportional shares.
California is a community property state. Assets acquired during the marriage are considered community property, while assets brought into the marriage, or those inherited by or gifted to one spouse, are considered separate property.
If a person dies without a will and is married at the time, the surviving spouse might inherit all community property. How the separate property gets distributed, however, can be complicated based on intestate succession. For example, the surviving spouse would inherit 1/2 if the deceased had one child or was survived only by parents, but would inherit only 1/3 if the deceased had more than one child.
Dying without a will or trust in California makes things very complicated. If you want to plan your estate, call on Beyer, Pongratz & Rosen.