Dying Without A Will

What happens if you don’t have a will or trust - and you die?

We say that if you don’t have an estate plan, the government has one for you. Dying without a will means that your assets will go to your closest relatives per state law, which in California, goes in this order:

  1. First, your offspring, in equal shares if they are in the same generation;

  2. If no offspring, then to your parents;

  3. If no parents, then to your siblings. If your siblings are no longer living, then to their children (your nieces and nephews);

  4. If no siblings, nieces, or nephews, then to your grandparents;

  5. If no grandparents, then to your aunts, uncles and cousins.

Cal. Probate Code § 6402. If there is absolutely nobody around (not even a distant relative) to inherit your estate, then it goes to the state.

In California, if you are married or domestically partnered, and you die without a will, your spouse or partner will inherit your entire share of the community property (property acquired during your marriage). As for separate property (property acquired outside of your marriage), your spouse can get everything, 1/3, or 1/2, depending on who exists among your relatives. For example, if you have one child, then half of your separate property would go to your spouse, the other half to that child. If you have more than one child, your spouse gets one third, and the remaining two thirds is split amongst your children. If you have no children, parents or siblings, your spouse gets all of your separate property. Cal. Probate Code § 6401.

The laws of intestate succession generally track the way many people leave their assets to their spouses and children in an estate plan, except for a sizable bill that has to be paid by the estate. Without a trust, even a modest estate of $250,000 will incur at least $8,000 in probate fees. Given that a basic estate plan can cost between $3000 - $5000, planning your estate pays for itself immediately, notwithstanding the multitude of other benefits and safeguards for you, your family, and your assets that an estate plan provides. Contact our office to discuss your estate planning needs.

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