Probate Without a Will / Intestate Succession

Probate Without a Will Lawyer Los Angeles, CA

Intestate Succession Attorneys Assist with Probate Matters in Chatsworth, Mission Hills, and Throughout California

In California and elsewhere, the probate process is a formal, court-supervised process through which estate property is identified, appraised, and distributed in accordance with the terms of the applicable Will. Simply put, the estate is “wound down” and a full accounting of the estate and its assets is made. Taxes and debts are paid, too.

Depending on the nature and extent of the estate assets at issue, as well as the likelihood of conflict between beneficiaries or even between creditors, the California probate process may require a substantial infusion of time, effort, and financial resources. In some cases, probate can take one or two years to fully resolve. As such, probate is generally seen as a process that is best avoided, when possible. If you only have a properly executed Will in place, however, and your estate assets (qualifying for probate) are worth greater than $100,000, then you may have to go through the court-supervised probate process.

It’s worth noting that probate isn’t all bad. Though it can be demanding, probate — at the very least — ensures that the desires of the deceased individual (expressed in the Will) are properly evaluated and the assets are distributed accordingly.

Confusion sets in when there is no Will.

Though it may come as a surprise, the failure to execute a Will (and other planning documents, such as a financial power of attorney or an advanced healthcare directive) is unfortunately common in California and elsewhere. Many people wait too long to execute a Will, thinking that they will eventually “get around to it.” In some cases, that time simply never comes.

What Happens If You Die Without a Will in Los Angeles, CA?

If you die without a Will, your assets will still have to go through the probate process in California.

Under normal circumstances, when you execute a valid Will, you can identify who you wish to serve as the administrator of the estate. When there is no valid Will, however, the probate court will appoint a qualified administrator to perform the duties required under law. The administrator will identify and appraise the estate assets, account for taxes and debts, notify all relevant parties as to the probate hearings, and manage expenses, among other things.

All is not necessarily lost without a valid Will having been put in place. Your assets will not disappear overnight, nor will your assets be funneled straight into the government’s coffers. In fact, California law establishes default distribution rules known as “intestate succession” that guide the distribution of covered estate assets in the event that no valid Will exists.

Distribution of Assets Through Intestate Succession in Santa Clarita, CA

Intestate succession laws in California govern inheritance when there is no valid Will in place to structure such distributions. How does intestate succession work? As an initial matter, one must first determine the spousal distribution.

California law deems that all “community property,” which consists of assets acquired over the course of the marriage, go to the surviving spouse. Separate property, which consists of assets acquired before marriage, will be distributed proportionally to all remaining beneficiaries.

For example, suppose that you die without a Will in CA. Your surviving spouse is looking to inherit your vacation home, which was acquired with marital funds during the early years of your marriage. The vacation home is community property. As such, your surviving spouse may take the property in its entirety — they do not have to share the asset with other beneficiaries.

After divorce (or separation), the ex-spouse is not entitled to receive any assets pursuant to intestate succession, so bear that in mind. Executing a Will gives you the opportunity to distribute at least some assets to your ex-spouse, which may be desirable in circumstances where you and your ex-spouse have maintained a positive relationship, or where you have children together.

Intestate succession demands a distribution scheme as follows, each party related to the deceased inheriting only if the previous party does not exist (or is not currently alive):

  • Spouse (entitled to a specified proportion of the separate property, the rest distributed to the beneficiaries below)
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts, uncles, and/or cousins
  • Distant relatives
  • Government

Suppose, for example, that you are killed in an accident and you left no valid Will behind to direct how your lifetime assets will be distributed. You were unmarried and had no children. In accordance with the laws of intestate succession in California, your parents will receive all of your assets. If your parents are no longer alive, then your siblings — if any — will receive all of your assets. If you have no siblings, then your grandparents will receive all of your assets, and so on and so forth.

It’s worth noting that adopted relatives (and half-siblings) are treated the same as any fully blood-related individuals. By contrast, the actions of certain surviving relatives can affect their entitlement to estate assets under intestate succession in CA. For example, if a relative engages in criminal violence against you, resulting in your death, then they will probably not be entitled to receive distributions from your estate.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced Chatsworth Probate Attorney

Here at the Law Offices of Darrell C. Harriman in North Hills, CA, we provide comprehensive estate planning services (so that probate without a Will can be avoided), as well as legal representation throughout the probate process. In situations where no valid Will has been executed, we can serve as probate administrators and ensure that the process is navigated smoothly to the benefit of the estate and the relevant beneficiaries.

Though we are a California-based firm, we have more than three decades of experience representing both in-state and out-of-state clients.

Interested in speaking with an experienced Northridge probate attorney? Contact the Law Offices of Darrell C. Harriman at (818) 435-4728 or submit an online form today to schedule a free consultation.