How Does Intestate Succession Work In California?

What Happens When You Pass Away Without A Last Will And Testament

If you die without establishing a Last Will and Testament in California, your estate (including properties, bank accounts, and so on) will automatically be divided amongst your closest kin. Therefore, the eligibility to inherit your estate depends on how closely related someone is to you, the closest of which are given much more priority.

That said, families aren't structured the same way for everyone. For example, some belong to blended families with several unadopted stepchildren. In contrast, others don't have a spouse or a child, and their parents, nephews, and grandchildren are the only closest relatives. This could affect how the distribution of inheritance is done in California.

So, how do you go about distributing a decedent's estate? What does California law say about a less-straightforward succession? Let's discuss:

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When Does Intestate Succession Come To Play In California?

Intestate succession is only ever used in cases where a deceased did not leave a last will and testament. Since there are no documents to show how they want their estate to be distributed, California law will default to giving the estate to the closest relatives.

However, this wouldn't be necessary if you have a California last will and testament. With a will, you can list beneficiaries and the exact way you want your estate to be divided among them. You can even indicate charities you want a portion of your estate to go to.

To avoid problems with how your estate might be handled after you die, it's best to consult with a Los Angeles estate law attorney to help you draft a will.

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Who Is Considered Your "Closest Relatives" In California?

An heir may be eligible depending on how closely related they are to the deceased. In short, some people will be considered more eligible to inherit your estate than other family members.

Here's how relationships with the deceased are prioritized under California intestate succession laws:

1. Heirs-At-Law

According to their degree of relationship to the deceased, heirs are ranked in order of importance under California's Intestate Succession law.

When determining who qualifies as direct heirs-at-law, surviving spouses and children come first. However, do note that both biological and adopted children have the right to inheritance, as both are legally considered your children.

2. Collateral Heirs

The property will be given to the decedent's parents, siblings, grandparents, and other family members in that order after the heirs-at-law if there are no surviving spouses, children, or grandchildren.

3. Unadopted Stepchildren

Unadopted stepchildren will only stand to inherit your estate if there are no other heirs-at-law or collateral heirs to receive it. So again, they won't be getting an inheritance only if you don't have a last will and testament. If you have a will in place, then there won't be any problem making them beneficiaries of your estate.

For example, if you marry someone and don't adopt their children (from a previous relationship), your spouse's children won't be legally considered your heirs-at-law. For stepchildren to have the legal right to be inheritors in intestate succession laws in California, you'd have to formally adopt them.

4. Unknown Heirs

When a decedent has no known heirs, California estate law requires a specific notice to be placed in the newspaper so that anyone who believes they are related to the deceased can come forward and be identified.

After proving their heirship through a legal process, they will be qualified to inherit the estate of the decedent. If no heirs could be discovered, the decedent's assets and property would be transferred to the state.

Why Do You Need An Estate Planning Attorney In Los Angeles?

If you wish that your estate be divided in a very specific way among a list of people, you should contact a California estate lawyer to help you draft and execute a will and living trusts.

An estate planning lawyer in California is also experienced with how important wording and phrasing are in legal documents. You want your will to reflect exactly how you want to be interpreted, avoiding possible problems and conflicts should the will be consulted after you pass away.

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