Intestate Succession California: What happens to a deceased person’s assets without a will

Death, precedented or not, is an unchangeable part of life. Many people are mentally and practically prepared for death, but some don’t proceed with such caution and preparedness. Intestate succession is the consequence of such lack of preparedness in case of death This article will focus on intestate succession California specifically, but also on what it means and how it works in general.

Despite making goals and plans for the rest of the time you expect to live, life is unpredictable for us human beings. Everything can change in a moment’s worth of time and your entire life can cease to exist; such is the concept of mortality. In this case, if you or someone you know has not prepared for what should happen to your assets and properties once you are no more, it is called dying ‘intestate’. We answer some common questions regarding the intestate succession laws in California, how different they can be in different states, and more.

Intestate Succession California

What is Intestate Succession?

The main definition of intestate succession is the legal passing down of property and assets when a person dies, accidentally or otherwise, without a will present to nominate their heir(s). This is a case where the government gets involved, and the people involved in the process have to follow the law that is applicable in the city or state they are living in. Part of the reason there is a need for such a formal intervention for inheritance on part of the government is because a lot of people still don’t prepare a will or they don’t get the time to do so.

Various states have different laws within different categories as well, and inheritance laws are no exception. Intestate succession in different states is followed through differently where people that are close to the deceased person are liable to follow the law of their state to maintain the legal flow of the inheritance. The law governs and looks after who will get the property or assets of a deceased person after they have died without first putting together a will.

In some states, there is a percentage assigned to what part can go to immediate family members and so forth, however it is not necessary to have an exact ratio since the division of inheritance also depends upon the property and the number of immediate family members as well. Some scenarios can differ and change how the property is distributed to the heirs, or whom if there are no heirs. And similarly, there are scenarios in which you need to categorize the assets and properties before they get passed down because there are exclusions in this scenario as well.

What is excluded from Intestate Succession?

While there is a lot that you have to account for in this case, there are also options that do not get included in the intestate succession because of the same law. This means some assets, investments, even property are exempted when accounting for the inheritance in this scenario. Everything that can be classified as probate property is part of the intestate succession, but there are several cases of property/assets that do not do so. Here is what is not part of the probate property list.

  • 401(k)s and IRAs: Any retirement funds in such employer accounts or with a company that is already named to another beneficiary, who does not fall under your immediate next of kin, is not included in the intestate succession
  • Life insurance with named beneficiary: Another situation in which the property or proceeds do not go into the inheritance to the next of kin of a deceased person is when they have a life insurance policy that’s signed off in another beneficiary’s name, similar to the previous transaction where someone else’s name bars it from being included
  • Property owned with the right to survivorship: The right to survivorship is the type of ownership between partners that invest together, and in case of the death of one, the other automatically gets all the share. In this scenario, the partner dying will have no right over their joint property owned together after their death, thus not included in the probate property
  • The property named to a trust: Any living trust or non-profit organization labeled as the beneficiary for any property is also excluded from probate property according to the law of intestate succession California, as it still goes and comes under that living trust
  • Death bank accounts with payables: A payable on death or POD account is when a person deliberately keeps their money in an account to keep it away from a probate court after their death. The money stays within the account all the while they are alive, but as soon as they pass away, the money goes to the beneficiary they have named for the account, just not within the time the account holder is alive.

Inheritance via Intestate Succession

After it is clear what property needs to be part of the probate process and what needs to be excluded from the process, it is time to look at other important parts of the law. The subject of intestate succession, who gets to inherit the property through intestate succession in California. Something specific to every state makes you follow that specific little instruction and it’s like that for a majority of states, but California intestacy laws are specifically considered quite restrictive or stringent, if you will, only allowing the immediate, most close-to-decedent person to be the heir.


In case of the deceased person being married, any part or share of property owned by the decedent, in this case, goes to their spouse directly. If they further do not have any other immediate family such as a parent, sibling, their children, and their sibling’s children, all their separately owned property will go to their spouse as well. Meaning all of 100% of the property rights will be going to the spouse in case they are the decedent’s last surviving relative.

However, many times, there are also surviving children along with the spouse in this case, in which scenario the property left behind goes to the spouse and the children both. The ratio or portion of the property that each of the children and spouse inherit depends upon the number of surviving children. This works even in a scenario where the deceased person and their spouse were legally separated before the decedent passed away.

No Spouse

In case the decedent was not in a legal marriage, this is how the succession will work:

  • First and foremost, the surviving children, if any, will get the portion of the property in the decedent’s name as part of the succession
  • Secondly, if there are no surviving children and spouse, the estate, whatever it is will go to the decedent’s parents
  • After children and parents, come the siblings if any. In situations where neither the decedent has any children, nor living parents, in this case, the property goes to their siblings equally. This includes any half-siblings the decedent has, inheriting their proportional share, no matter which side of the parent they are from
  • If there are no above-stated relatives alive, but there are grandparents, the estate will go to the grandparents in this case according to California’s intestacy law.

No Surviving Immediate Family

There are two scenarios to also consider after all the above considerations are made. One is if the decedent does not have any immediate family members stated above at all. Meaning they have no surviving relatives that the estate and property could go to. No parents, siblings, grandparents, spouse, children, or any other immediate family members.  In this scenario, specifically, the entire estate will go to the California State directly as part of the law.

The second important scenario, or less a scenario, more a condition to the above scenario of the succession going to the children is that the child must outlive their deceased parent by at least 120 hours, to successfully inherit their estate in probate court. This includes all those unfortunate scenarios in which the decedent’s family passes away with them, due to an accident or otherwise. Say the decedent and their children got into an accident together, the decedent is declared dead but the child or children survive them. They have to survive their parents by at least 120 hours, to inherit the estate.

In case they also pass away before the completion of 120 hours, they are excluded from the inheritance via intestacy laws. And if they do survive, then the law proceeds as it should. This is a necessary procedure according to intestate succession California. There are many things to consider and think of in a scenario as delicate as this, therefore make sure you consult a professional lawyer within your jurisdiction that can help you understand the situation, guide you, and deal with the matter carefully.

Recent Posts