Like many people in California, you may look to the estate planning process with a certain degree of trepidation. Not only does the process force you to face the prospect of your own mortality, but you also risk upsetting some of your presumptive heirs with your decisions.
Many in your same position seek help believing professionals have a potential solution: not preparing a will at all. They may believe that in doing so, they leave the decisions regarding the distribution of their estates to their potential heirs. Yet that is not the case. The state actually determines who receives what from your estate if you die intestate (without a will).
Intestate succession in California
Section 6401 of the California Probate Code details the state’s guidelines for intestate succession. The law states that if you leave behind a spouse, they inherit your entire estate if you have no surviving issue (direct lineal descendants), parents or siblings. If you have only one surviving descendant (or the issue of only one surviving descendant) or a surviving parent, your spouse’s share of your estate reduces to one-half of its value (with the remaining going to those other respective parties). If you have more than one descendant, one descendant and the issue of another deceased descendant, or the issue of two or more deceased descendants, then your spouse’s interest in your estate reduces to one-third.
What if you have no spouse? In such a scenario, your intestate estate would descend in the following order:
- Your issue
- Your parents
- Your siblings (and/or their issue)
- Your grandparents
- Your spouse’s descendants (who are not also biologically related to you)
- Your next of kin
You may be able to help your loved ones avoid the complications of intestate succession by preparing your will and other estate planning as early as possible.