If you die without leaving a will, it creates special challenges for your loved ones. In California, people who die without a will, trust, or named heirs are said to have died “intestate.” Sometimes people die intestate because they don’t think they need a will, since they possess few assets or believe their loved ones can settle the accounts on their own. 

Wen you die without a will. California Estate Planning Lawyer Kavesh Minor & Otis

However, the state of California will have automatic jurisdiction over most intestate assets. While the court can’t seize your house or car in the name of Sacramento, you’ll have little say in how your remaining accounts and assets are used.

California Has Succession Laws for Intestate Estates

California’s probate courts have established their own set of intestacy laws. They establish a “line of succession” for who gets what. These laws, and the line of succession, give priority to your spouse, children, and parents:

  • If you have a spouse but no children, parents, or siblings, your spouse is entitled to all of your belongings.
  • If you have a spouse and children, your spouse will automatically get one-half or one-third of your “community property” and one-half or one-third of your “separate property,” depending on whether you had one child or several.
  • If you have a spouse and a surviving parent or parents but no children, your spouse will inherit all of your community property and half of your separate property.

If you die but don’t have a surviving spouse, parent, or child, the probate court will allocate your assets to nieces or nephews. If you have neither, a judge will look at other, more distant members of your family. In very rare cases, when the court can identify no surviving relatives, California may take all your assets for itself.

Remember that if you have any outstanding debts, your creditors can stake claims on your estate, too. So even if you have a great deal of faith in California’s probate court, there’s still a chance your heirs could get nothing.

Your Loved Ones Can’t Afford for You to Die Intestate

There are steps you can take to protect your accounts, properties, and investments. A will, for instance, is a basic estate document everyone should have. You can also consider establishing a private or charitable trust, which can shield your loved ones from the state’s scrutiny while providing strong tax incentives.

Wills, Trusts, and Attorneys Help Secure Your Legacy

Estate planning doesn’t have to be difficult. We can help you create a will and other documents that allow you to allocate your legacy the way you want. If you need help getting started, send us a message, or give us a call today.

Do You Need To Speak With An Attorney About Estate Planning?

If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.