Immediately following the death of a loved one in California, estate concerns may be the last thing on your mind. Rather, you likely remain preoccupied with your feelings regarding your loss. Plus, you should not need to worry about the administration of the estate, because those wishes are likely stipulated in your family member’s will, right?

Yet what if your loved one died without a will? You may believe that in such a case, you and any other potential beneficiaries to the estate can then decide how to divide up the assets and property. That, however, is not the case.

Succession when there is a surviving spouse

When someone dies without a will, the law classifies the estate as “intestate.” California’s guidelines regarding intestate succession are in Section 6401 of the state’s Probate Code. Here it states that the surviving spouse receives the entire intestate estate if the deceased leaves behind no issue (direct lineal descendants), parents or siblings.

If the deceased leaves behind one descendant (or a single descendant of a deceased child), or if there are surviving parents or siblings, the spouse’s interest in the estate reduces to one-half of its total value. It reduces further to one-third of the estate if the deceased leaves behind more than one descendant.

Succession when there is no surviving spouse

If your loved one does not have a surviving spouse, then the intestate estate would pass as follows:

  • To descendants
  • To parents
  • To siblings (or descendants)
  • To grandparents (or maternal and paternal kindred)

If the deceased has no such relatives and had a spouse who has already died, then the estate would go to the relatives of the spouse. In the aforementioned scenario, no allowances exist for anyone not directly related to the decedent.