Figuring Out What to Do When a Parent Dies Without a Will in California


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If a parent should die intestate (without a will), the children might not know what to do about the parent’s assets. Fortunately, if you live in California, clear intestate succession laws exist that direct how to share a deceased parent’s property even without a will. Here’s everything to know about what to do when a parent dies without a will.

Assets That California’s Intestacy Laws Cover

California intestate succession laws only cover assets that are transferable via wills. Examples of properties that are not transferrable via wills are:

·         Assets in a living trust

·         Life insurance proceeds (provided there is a beneficiary designation)

·         Funds in a retirement account (provided there is a beneficiary designation)

·         Money in a transfer-on-death account or payable-on-death bank accounts

·         Vehicles under a transfer-on-death registration

·         Community property or joint tenancy real estate, or other jointly owned properties

Who Gets What Under California Intestacy Laws?

Intestacy laws vary from state to state. In California, the probate court will share the deceased’s assets between their closest living family members. For example, if you die and leave behind:

·         Children but no spouse: The children inherit everything.

·         One child or grandchild and a spouse: The spouse will inherit all your community property and half of your separate property. The child will inherit the other half of your separate property. 

·         A spouse and at least two children: The spouse gets all your community assets and one-third of your separate property. The children will inherit two-thirds of your property.

·         A spouse and one child and at least one grandchild from a deceased child: The child will receive one-sixth (⅙) of your separate property (⅓ divided by 2) and the grandchild will receive one-sixth (⅙) of your separate property (⅓ divided by 2)–collectively the child and grandchild receive two-thirds of the separate property.. The spouse will receive one-third of your separate property and all of your community property.

·         A surviving spouse but no children, nieces and nephews, parents, or siblings: The spouse will be the sole beneficiary.

Separate properties are assets the deceased acquired before marriage, or assets acquired by gift or inheritance during the course of the marriage. Community properties are assets acquired during the marriage. In California, domestic partners have the same right as married people under intestacy laws.

Children That California’s Intestacy Provisions Cover

Besides biological children, the following categories of young or adult children can inherit a deceased parent’s property:

·         Legally adopted children

·         Children conceived but born after the deceased’s demise

·         Grandchildren, but only if the grandchild’s parents are not alive

If the deceased has children but no spouse, each child will get equal shares from the deceased person’s property. The following category of children won’t have an automatic share to the deceased’s estate:

·         Foster children and stepchildren that the deceased did not legally adopt

· children born outside of marriage, unless the children can prove the deceased acknowledged them as his or hers

·         Children placed for adoption and adopted by another family

Did Both or Either of Your Parents Die Without a Will?

If you are unsure about what to do when a parent dies without a will, the best thing to do is hire an estate lawyer. Your attorney will provide all the legal advice you need regarding appointing a personal representative to administer the estate. Your attorney will also ensure that the deceased parent’s assets will be divided equally between the children and surviving spouse, if any.

At Klosek Law Offices, we protect our clients from complications that could cause them to lose their inheritance. Please contact us at Klosek Law Offices today to schedule a consultation to discuss your options. We have several locations in Northern California, including offices in Sacramento, Palo Alto, Folsom, and Elk Grove—so we will meet with you at the location most convenient to you.

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