Estate planning is important on so many levels. It is far too easy to keep putting it off. It involves facing some difficult choices and confronting some potentially unpleasant situations such as death or incapacitation. Failure to properly plan for your future, your family’s future, and your estate’s future, however, can have dire consequences. Essentially, you lose control and the opportunity to make your wishes known regarding important things such as your health care, a guardian for your children, and how your property will be distributed.

What Does It Mean to Die Intestate?

When a person dies without a will, it is referred to as dying “intestate.” When this occurs in California, the state’s laws of intestate succession apply. The property of the deceased goes on to be distributed according to state law and not necessarily the way the person would have wanted things to be distributed.

Intestate laws only distribute assets that are included in the probate estate. Put otherwise, only assets that would have passed through the person’s will, should he or she have created one. Many assets fall outside of probate and thus are not subject to the intestacy laws. For instance, the following assets would not be subject to intestacy laws:

  • Living trust(s)
  • Life insurance
  • Retirements accounts (including IRAs and 401(k)s)
  • Securities with transfer on death designation
  • Vehicles registered with transfer on death designation
  • Property held in joint tenancy

Under California’s intestate succession laws, who will get what from the estate depends on which relatives are alive when the person passes away. Generally speaking, the distribution starts with the closest relatives. If there are no closer living relatives, then the distribution goes to more distant relatives. If there are no known living relatives, the bulk of the estate passes to the State.

California’s intestate succession laws direct children to inherit everything if there are living children, but no surviving spouse. If there is a surviving spouse, but no surviving children, parents, siblings, or nieces or nephews, the spouse will inherit everything. If there are surviving parents, but no surviving children, spouse, or siblings, the parents will inherit everything. If there are surviving siblings, but no surviving children, spouse, or parents, the siblings will inherit everything. If there are a spouse and a surviving child or children, your spouse will inherit all of your community property and either half or one-third of your separate property depending on the number of surviving children. California is a community property state and that is why the spouse receives the entirety of the deceased spouse’s share of their community property.

Trusted Estate Planning Attorney

Do not relinquish the control over your assets and the financial future of you and your loved ones by failing to put an estate plan in place. Yes, there are some very important decisions to make during the process, but the Law Office of Rodney Gould is here to make estate planning as easy and seamless as possible. Contact us today.