When a person dies without a will, the law decides how to divide the person's estate. Dying without a will is referred to as "intestate succession." California has a unique set of rules regarding intestate succession.

What Kind of Property Is Subject to Intestate Succession in California?

Any property that belonged to the person who died may be transferred to the deceased heirs or spouse as long as the property was not disposed of by a will.

How is the Property Transferred to the Surviving Spouse?

Because California is a community property state, the property of someone who dies without a will is transfered to the surviving spouse in most circumstances. However, this depends on whether the remaining property is community property or separate property.   

Community Property

In a community property state like California, the deceased's share of the community property will transfer to the surviving spouse. This same principle applies to quasi-community property.

Separate Property

For the deceased's separate property, the surviving spouse will receive: 

  • All of the separate property if there are no other heirs or children
  • One half the separate property if there is one child or issue with heirs
  • One third of the property if there is more than one child

What Happens to the Property If there Is No Surviving Spouse?

If there is no surviving spouse, generally for intestate succession an heir with a closer relationship with the deceased wlll receive a higher degree of inheritance. The property shall be divided into as many equal shares as there are living members of the same generation from the deceased. Some examples of parties that would have an interest in the estate would be:

  • Children
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Brothers and Sisters

Should I Contact an Attorney?

Distribution of estates without a will can be very tricky with many involved issues and parties. California law is specific about who has a share in the intestate estate. Thus, an experienced wills and trusts attorney in California  would be particularly helpful in examining your best options for your interest to the estate.