An estate plan is a set of legal documents that explains how a California resident wants their assets and wealth distributed after they have passed away. Common estate planning tools may include but are not limited to wills, trusts and powers of attorney. While practically anyone can benefit from the execution of a personal estate plan, everyone should be aware of how their assets will be managed if they pass away without one.

The laws of intestacy are in place to address just such situations. They may differ from state to state, but generally these laws allow closely related family members to benefit from a decedent’s estate before more distantly related heirs. This post will focus on how California’s intestacy laws handle decedents who have no estate plans.

It is important that readers remember that California is a community property state, and therefore a surviving spouse has a one-half interest in any community property prior to their spouse’s death. When their spouse passes away, the surviving spouse retains half of the decedent’s share as well. Separate property is divided more specifically and will depend upon whether the decedent left behind children, parents, or siblings. Specific questions about intestate succession should be addressed with practicing estate planning lawyers.

While many people want their spouses, kids, and parents to benefit from their end-of-life wealth, most want to have some say in how and how much of that wealth is given to each beneficiary. The laws of intestacy provide a set schedule of distributions based on family relationships and individual assets. Those who want to have control over who receives what items and assets of their estate should consider executing estate plans.

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