What Happens if You Pass Away Without a Will?

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This may come as a surprise to you, but if you own any property or assets in California, the state has already come up with a Last Will and Testament for you. It isn’t signed by your attorney, and your family members don’t know anything about it, but it exists and is referred to as the “intestate succession laws.” This blog will take a look at these laws and how they affect estates of individuals who never got around to any estate planning. 

California Intestate Succession Laws

The main purpose of anyone’s Will is to direct how (and to whom) their probate assets will be distributed upon their death. Notice that not every single asset in an estate will need to pass through California probate court. Some assets, like those jointly owned or with payable-on-death beneficiary designations, will not need to pass through probate. For those that are subject to probate court, though, the intestate succession laws will dictate the distribution of assets and property. 

The first person with the first right to your inheritance based on California law is your surviving spouse. For example, if you passed away with no surviving parents, children, or siblings, your spouse would receive everything. However, the same is true if you are only survived by your parent(s), sibling(s), or children. 

What happens if you are survived by your spouse AND children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, or a combination thereof? In this case, inheritance amounts start to get tricky. If you preceded your spouse in death, then your spouse will get either 1/2 or 1/3 of your separate property (along with all of your community property). Community property is everything that you or your spouse gained during your marriage, with a handful of exceptions. Separate property is anything that was owned by you or your spouse prior to your marriage—again, with a few exceptions. 

Your spouse will only receive 1/3 of your separate property if you leave two or more surviving children, or two or more grandchildren whose parent (your child) is deceased. 

What Will Happen to Your Minor Children?

Your children are, without question, your greatest assets. If you passed away tomorrow, would you be satisfied with who their guardian would be? Furthermore, do you know who their guardian would be? If you have not designated a successor guardian for your children in your Will, the court is left to determine the best person for the job. There is a good chance that this person would not be your first choice. 


Not having an estate plan in place can leave your loved ones with a long, tedious process in probate court after you pass away. Your estate will lose its value, and your assets might not go to the people who really need them. Take the first step toward having some control over your estate by calling Anthoor Law Group at 510-794-2887. We look forward to discussing your options with you.

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