When people die without leaving a will, they are said to have died “intestate.” A common myth is that the estate goes to the state when no will exists. This happens only when there are no living relatives of the deceased person, which is very rare. Nonetheless, the laws of intestate distribution of assets may not lead to the results that the deceased person would have desired.
The intestate laws are contained in the California Probate Code, which divides the decedent’s property in this manner:
- If married, with no other close relatives — Spouse receives entire estate
- If married, with children — Spouse inherits all community property and one-half to one-third of the separate property — depending on the number of children or grandchildren — with the children or grandchildren receiving the remainder of the separate property
- If married, with parents or siblings still alive — Spouse gets all community property and one-half of the separate property, with the parents or siblings receiving the rest of the separate property
- If unmarried with children, but no parents or siblings — Children receive entire estate
- If parents only — Parents inherit the whole estate
- If siblings only — Siblings inherit everything
In some cases, more distant relatives — such as nieces, nephews and grandchildren — are entitled to the share what would have gone to their deceased parents. For intestate purposes, a domestic partner has the same rights as a spouse.
Intestate rules can be confusing and may require the assistance of a qualified Palo Alto estate litigation lawyer.