What happens when someone dies without a will in California?

            If someone dies without a will in California, they are said to have died “intestate.”    California has a set of default inheritance rules, called intestate succession, or commonly referred to as intestacy, when someone dies and there is no will.
            Before the default intestacy rules are implemented, the account beneficiary designations, joint tenancies, and other beneficiary accounts get transferred to the named beneficiary of the account.  In essence, the assets that pass through the default inheritance laws in California, take effect after the beneficiary designations have been satisfied.
           If you do not want to fall into the default intestate succession rules in California, make a will or trust!

          If you are married for example, under the intestate rules, your spouse will get 100% of your community assets.  Community property assets are those which were acquired during the marriage, but not a gift or inheritance which were previously left to the decedent.   If the assets are separate property, California gives the surviving spouse some of it, and leaves some to the children.  The percentages that each get depends on how many children exist.

        What if you die, are married, and have no children?  Then your surviving spouse gets it all.  Registered Domestic Partners are treated the same as spouses in California

        What if you die, are married, have separate property, and one child?  Your spouse will get 1/2 and your child will get 1/2.

         What if you die, are married, have separate property, and more than one child?  Then, your spouse gets 1/3 and your children will share 2/3 of the estate.

        What if you die, and are unmarried, but have children?  Then, your children will get all of your estate.

        What if you die, are unmarried, and have no children?  Then, your assets go to your heirs at law.

         Who are your heirs at law in California?   They are defined as parents, siblings, and other relatives, in a certain order.

         So what if you do not have a good relationship with your spouse or children?

It is best to see an attorney to create a will or trust, to designate exactly how you want your assets distributed.   If you do not a spouse or children, you should check to see if you have a good relationship with your parents, or siblings, and other heirs at law.  If you don’t like the people who are the heirs at law, be sure to have a will or trust, to direct the disposition of assets.

        Why is is important to have a valid estate plan?  It is important to have a valid estate plan, because it lets you direct who gets your property when you die, and gives you peace of mind.

        Call Mina Sirkin, Specialist Estate Planning attorney in Los Angeles County for a free consultation at 818.340.4479 or email MSirkin@SirkinLaw.com .





How is distribution of assets done under intestacy, or death without a will in California?

California Probate Code 240 and 241:  Intestate Distribution System

Intestate Distribution System California  (Intestacy is Death Without a Will)

California has a default system for distribution of assets of a deceased person, who died without a will in California.  It is called intestate succession.   Probate Code Sections 6400 et al govern our basic default inheritance and intestacy laws in California.


If a statute calls for property to be distributed or taken in the manner provided in this section, the property shall be divided into as many equal shares as there are living members of the nearest generation of issue then living and deceased members of that generation who leave issue then living, each living member of the nearest generation of issue then living receiving one share and the share of each deceased member of that generation who leaves issue then living being divided in the same manner among his or her then living issue.

(Enacted by Stats. 1990, Ch. 79.)


Section 240 does not apply where the death of the decedent in the case of intestate succession or of the testator, settlor, or other transferor occurred before January 1, 1985, and the law applicable prior to January 1, 1985, shall continue to apply where the death occurred before January 1, 1985.

(Enacted by Stats. 1990, Ch. 79.)

To get more information about intestacy in California, where someone died without a will call Mina Sirkin, Probate Attorney, at 818-340-4479, or email Info@SirkinLaw.com.