What Happens if You Die Without a Will in California?

What Happens if You Die Without a Will in California?

By |2017-08-08T19:54:20-07:00Thursday, November 10th, 2016|Bridget's Blog, Probate|6 Comments

You have worked hard all your life, so you want to make sure your assets go to your loved ones when you die. If you put off having a will done, your assets will be left up to the intestate succession laws. Using this approach, probate will determine the heirs for your property. The process involves heirs answering several questions about the individual who died.

If There is Not a Spouse

Of course, the most prominent question is to determine whether the individual who died was married. If the answer to that is “no”, the distribution will follow a process with the children taking equal parts if they are members of the same generation. If you have no living children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, the estate will go to your parents.

If at that point there aren’t surviving parents, the estate will be divided amongst siblings. If you have siblings who are dead and they were parents, their children will inherit the part of the estate that would have been inherited by the deceased siblings. Of course, the list continues to include grandparents, uncles and aunts, or cousins. The process is rather detailed and can be complicated.

If the Decedent Was Married

If you have a spouse and you die without a will, there is a different approach that is taken. The first thing considered is whether you and your spouse owned community property, separate property, or both. Community property is any assets that were acquired during the life of the marriage by work earnings. Any separate property is property that was owned before the marriage, any inheritances, or gifts. There are exceptions for these definitions in California law, so your assets can switch from being separate property to community property.

All community property will be transferred to the widow or widower. The separate property goes to the spouse if the decedent doesn’t have surviving children, parents, siblings, or nieces and nephews of a deceased sibling. The surviving spouse is awarded one-half the separate property if the deceased individual only had a single child or grandchildren from a dead child. If the decedent had more than one child, the surviving spouse gets one -third of the property and so forth.

A Last Will and Testament

With a last will and testament, you can leave your assets to whomever you choose. By doing this, you can prevent family disputes and ensure your property goes to the individual you want to receive it. To start your California estate planning in the North Bay, contact the Law Offices of Bridget Mackay.

About the Author:

Bridget Mackay is a Petaluma estate planning attorney who has been practicing law since 1996. She is a member of the Sonoma County Bar Association, California State Bar Association Trust and Estates Section and on the Board of the Sonoma County Women in Law. She also sits on the Board of the Cinnabar Arts Corporation in Petaluma. Connect with Bridget on Google


  1. Sarah Moughan February 8, 2017 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    Hi, my uncle died last week. No will. He was a CA resident. My mother, also deceased, was his sister. He has one surviving sister. His parents are both deceased and he had no spouse or children. Will my siblings and I inherit, along with his sister? Or just his sister? Thank you!

  2. […] in that property, and the deceased spouse’s 50% interest passes under his or her will or through intestate succession. It might go to the surviving spouse or others, depending on the deceased spouse’s estate plan […]

  3. […] written about intestate succession before. In that post, I discussed which of your family members will inherit your property if you […]

  4. Isaiah February 11, 2018 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    I’d must verify with you here. Which is not one thing I often do! I get pleasure from reading a submit that will make people think. Additionally, thanks for allowing me to comment!

  5. Greg Compton September 5, 2018 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    Hi Bridget
    My uncle died 2 months ago without issue, parents, grandparents, brother or sisters. The decedants mother had died in 1952 leaving four children from a previous marriage.
    All four children from that marriage had died ten years before the decedant and left two descendants.
    As a nephew will they take priority as an heir over me

    Greg Compton

    • Bridget Mackay December 18, 2018 at 8:53 am - Reply

      I believe all of you will take on the same level because under California law his mother’s children from the previous marriage are still consider his siblings even though they are only half siblings.

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