Everybody needs an estate plan, but too few Americans get around to making one. Many people assume their families can handle their affairs after they pass away. However, anyone who dies without an estate plan is likely to leave their loved ones in serious trouble. Without a will, you put your heirs at the mercy of a California probate court. Since the court is bound by state law in administering estates, it will not care about the legacy you wanted to leave behind.

If you die without a will, your loved ones could lose big. An experienced California estate planning attorney can help you protect your estate, ensuring your legacy’s integrity and protecting your family for generations to come. When you die without a will

California’s Intestacy Rules

California, like most other states, has a special procedure for dealing with the estates of people who have died intestate, or without a will. 

If you have not established a trust or implemented another strategy to keep your estate out of court, your assets may be subject to probate.

Some assets are never affected by intestate proceedings, including:

  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Pay-on-death accounts
  • Property held as joint or community property

However, if you do not have a will and plan in place, your remaining assets may have to go through probate. Ordinarily, probate assets are disbursed according to the terms of a will. But if you don’t have one, a probate judge will distribute them according to a predetermined legal formula. This formula typically privileges close blood relations. For instance:

  • If you have children but no spouse, your children will inherit everything
  • If you have a spouse but no children, parents, siblings, nieces, or nephews, your spouse will inherit everything
  • If you have surviving parents but no spouse, children, or siblings, your parents will inherit everything

This formula adjusts according to the unique make-up of your family and may see your assets given to siblings, grandparents, or nieces, nephews, or cousins.

Since this formula is defined by law, it is not easy to challenge. Your spouse might, for instance, be forced to share an inheritance with your parents or siblings, even if you were estranged.   

How a Probate Attorney Can Help

An estimated 70% of Americans never write a will. However, a will can help you protect your loved ones from intestacy proceedings and ensure they get the legacy you wish to leave them.

Although wills provide a guaranteed escape from intestacy, they are not perfect documents: your assets will still be showcased in court. They will also be vulnerable to claims from creditors who could claw away assets you wanted your spouse or children to inherit.

An experienced probate and estate planning attorney can help you safeguard your life’s work. Depending on your circumstances, you may benefit from:

  • A revocable living trust
  • A life insurance policy
  • A revisioning of your payable-upon-death accounts
  • A reconsideration of your property holdings and how they are owned

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.