Inheritance through Intestate Succession in California
When a person dies without a will or a living trust in the State of California, they die intestate.
The laws of intestate succession in California determine who inherits the decedent’s estate.
Who gets what under California intestate succession laws depends on which of the closest relatives survives the decedent and the time of death.
The California probate code specifies how assets get distributed based upon many factors.
If married at the time of death, distribution of assets depends on how the property is owned:
- Community property
- Decedent’s separate property
- Quasi-Community property
Property gained from earnings or salary during a marriage are community property.
Assets owned before marriage, gifts, and inheritances are separate property.
Assets gained by a spouse or domestic partner while living outside the state of California get considered as quasi-community property if earnings purchased real estate or other property that would be community property in California.
An “issue” means children or other genetic lineal descendants of a person such as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
If married, the surviving spouse receives the community property.
Separate property of a married person gets distributed:
- If there are no children, parents, brothers, sisters or children of a deceased brother or sister the surviving spouse receives the separate property.
- One-half to the surviving spouse if the deceased had only one child or issue of a deceased child.
- Surviving spouse receives one-half if the deceased left no issue but had surviving parents or issue of the parents.
- One-third to the spouse if there was more than one surviving child.
- If there was one surviving child and children of one or more deceased children, one-third to the surviving spouse.
- One-third to the spouse if there issues of two or more deceased children.
If not married at the time of death, the estate gets distributed:
- To the children in equal shares
- If there are no children, to the parents or their issue, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren
- If parents deceased, the estate gets distributed to the parent’s brothers and sisters.
- Children of deceased brothers or sisters inherit the share that the deceased brother or sister would have inherited.
- The grandparents inherit the estate if there are no brothers or sisters.
- Children of the grandparents inherit the estate if there are no living grandparents. These children could include uncles and aunts or cousins.
- If there are no surviving cousins, the estate gets distributed to the next of kin of the decedent in equal shares.
California laws of intestacy also provide:
- Survivorship period– To inherit through intestate succession, a person must outlive the deceased by 120 hours.
- Half-relatives inherit as if they were whole.
- Posthumous relatives inherit the same as if the deceased person were alive when the relatives were born.
- Immigration status – relatives inherit even if they are not legally in the United States, or citizens.
- Slayer rule states that if someone kills you, they will not receive their inheritance.
If the deceased person created an estate plan and had a will or a living trust, the decedent’s property gets distributed by the terms of the will or trust.
The way to avoid probate in California is to create a living trust and will and decide for yourself who gets what when we die.
Not all property passes through succession in California when a person dies without a will.
A few examples of assets that pass to a co-owner or named beneficiary are:
- Bank accounts
- Life insurance
- Retirement accounts
- Real estate or other assets owned in joint tenancy or community property
- Always consult with an attorney for legal advice.