Does a Spouse Automatically Inherit Everything in California?
The death of a spouse is one of the most painful experiences in life. Not only is it emotionally taxing but can also create financial uncertainty. Many people assume that the surviving spouse automatically inherits everything. However, this is not the case in California.
When a person dies without a will in California, their assets are distributed to their family members according to the state’s intestate succession laws. If you have recently lost a loved one or want to protect your or your spouse’s inheritance rights, contact Rodney Gould. The estate planning attorney in Los Angeles, California, can help you navigate the complex laws and ensure that you take the necessary steps to protect your right to inheritance. Law Office of Rodney Gould also serves Studio City, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Sherman Oaks. Set up an initial consultation today.
Understanding Intestate Succession
Intestate succession is the order of priority in which heirs inherit from a decedent’s estate when the decedent passes away without leaving behind a will or other estate planning documents that dictate how their assets should be distributed. Intestate succession laws vary from one state to another.
Intestate Succession in California
Under California’s intestate succession, who gets what depends on which closest relatives of the decedent are left behind. The order of priority in California is as follows:
Children inherit everything when there is no surviving spouse;
The spouse inherits everything when there are no children, siblings, parents, or nephews/nieces;
The parents inherit everything when there are no spouse, children, or siblings;
The siblings inherit everything when there are no spouse, children, or parents;
The spouse inherits 100% of the community property and ½ of the separate property when there is one child/grandchild (the remaining half of the half is inherited by the child/grandchild);
The spouse inherits 100% of the community property and 1/3 of the separate property when there are two or more children, or one child and one or more grandchildren, or two or more grandchildren (the remaining portion is inherited by the children/grandchildren);
The spouse inherits 100% of the community property and ½ of the separate property and the parents inherit the remaining half of the separate property when there are a spouse and parents; and
The spouse inherits 100% of the community property and ½ of the separate property and the siblings inherit the remaining half of the separate property when there are a spouse and siblings.
Only assets that go through probate are subject to California’s intestate succession laws. According to the website of the Judicial Council of California, the probate process involves an executor or administrator collecting the assets, paying the expenses and debts, and then distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
Thus, any assets a person owns in their name (not jointly owned with someone else) are subject to intestate succession laws. Some examples may include:
Real estate (e.g., family home)
Vehicles, including cars
Personal items, including furniture
Certain assets, including 401(k) accounts, may be subject to California’s law of intestate succession if no beneficiary is named for them.
What Is the Spouse’s Share?
Since the answer to the question, “Does a spouse automatically inherit everything in California?” is “no,” you need to understand how the spouse’s share is determined:
Community vs. separate property. First of all, the spouses’ property is categorized into community property and separate property. Community property is any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage. Separate property is any property acquired before the marriage. In most cases, gifts and inheritances during the marriage are also separate property.
Intestate succession. Once the property is categorized, the intestate succession law applies. The spouse inherits half of the community property (they already own the other half of the community property under California’s property division law). In addition, the surviving spouse inherits a portion of their spouse’s separate property. Their share depends on whether there are any surviving children, grandchildren, siblings, and parents.
If your spouse has recently died, consider reaching out for legal guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney to determine what you can and cannot inherit under the law.
Compassionate Legal Help
If you lost your spouse and have questions about your inheritance rights, reach out to Law Office of Rodney Gould. Attorney Rodney Gould can provide you with the compassionate legal help you need and guide you through both the probate and intestate succession processes. You deserve to pursue a positive outcome. Get a free case evaluation today by contacting the law firm’s office in Sherman Oaks.