What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will?

October 7, 2014

Making end-of-life plans can be a very difficult and uncomfortable process for many people. We don’t like to think about what will happen when we are gone, so it can be easy to simply avoid the subject altogether.

However, failing to make adequate plans in the form of a will or estate plan can prove to be detrimental to our loved ones. If a person dies and does not have a will, California courts and laws will decide who gets what. This can create conflict, anger and frustration for the loved ones left behind.

Think about this: When people die without a will, they are leaving no evidence of how their assets should be distributed. A person may want to provide for stepchildren or make sure an estranged family member does not receive anything, for example. But these wishes may not be taken into consideration by the courts without a legal document clearly stating who should or should not receive assets.

California laws specify that if a person dies without a will, his or her property will be distributed first to a spouse and any children. In the event that a person does not have a spouse or children, the property will be given to parents, siblings or other family members — regardless of how close they may or may not have been to a person who has passed away.

What this means is that important organizations or people to whom a person may have wanted to leave part of an estate could ultimately get nothing.

In many of these situations, bitter courtroom disputes can be all but unavoidable. Relatives clash in the fight over who should get what, and in some cases the process destroys relationships and leaves everyone frustrated and unhappy.

Rather than risk hurting the people who you want to protect, you can speak with an attorney and draw up a will. While it may be uncomfortable or overwhelming, making a will can be a great source of relief that your wishes will be respected and your loved ones may be able to avoid some of the heartache of fighting over assets in court.

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