What Happens If You Die Without A Will In California?

Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended solely for informational purposes and should not be used for legal purposes.

According to estate planning and probate law, the absence of a last will can lead to significant legal consequences

It triggers a predefined set of rules and procedures for distributing the deceased person’s assets and appointing guardians for minor children. 

This legal discourse aims to provide insight into the ramifications related to what happens if you die without a will in California.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In California?

When a California resident passes away without a valid will, the state’s intestacy laws dictate the distribution of their assets.

These laws are established in the California Probate Code, specifically Sections 6400 to 6455. 

The Intestacy Law On What Happens If You Die Without A Will In California?

Intestacy laws ensure a fair distribution of assets among the deceased person’s surviving family members.

But the outcomes may not always align with the decedent’s wishes.

Below, we delve into the key aspects of California’s Intestacy Laws. It will provide authentic websites for further reference.

1. Spousal Inheritance:

How a surviving spouse inherits an intestate estate in California depends on various factors.

According to spousal inheritance rights under California’s intestacy laws:

The estate typically goes to the surviving spouse if the decedent has no surviving children, parents, or siblings.

If there are surviving children, the spouse inherits one-half of the community property.

On the other hand, the other half is distributed among the children.

Complex scenarios may arise in cases involving children from a previous marriage.

Another case is when a spouse might not inherit the entire estate.

2. Children’s Inheritance:

Surviving children have specific inheritance rights under California’s intestacy laws:

The children inherit the deceased’s separate property if there is no surviving spouse.

If the decedent had no spouse but had children from a previous relationship, the children may inherit the entire estate.

3. Parents, Siblings, And Other Relatives:

California intestacy laws dictate that the estate may pass to the decedent’s parents or siblings.

Moreover, it is also passed to more distant relatives in situations.

This will be in case of no surviving spouse, children, or descendants.

The specific rules regarding this distribution can be found in California Probate Code Section 6402.

Understanding these laws is crucial.

These will help you know what happens if you die without a well in California.

This benefits anyone interested in seeking information on how assets are distributed without a will. 

However, it’s important to note that intestacy laws can be complex.

Their application may vary depending on the specifics of each case.

Individuals are encouraged to consult with experienced estate planning attorneys.

They can also explore the California Legislative Information website for up-to-date legal information.

Ultimately, it guides what happens if you die without a will in California.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will In California? The Probate Process

Dying without a will in California also triggers the probate process.

This is the legal procedure through which the court oversees the distribution of assets.

Probation can be lengthy and costly.

It potentially reduces the estate’s value due to legal fees and administrative costs.

Moreover, the probate process is public and becomes a matter of public record.

Here, the process means the estate details, its beneficiaries, and the distribution process.

This lack of privacy can concern many individuals who prefer to keep their financial matters confidential.

Navigation Of The Probate Process

Navigating the probate process in California without a will can be complex and time-consuming.

It is highly recommended that the personal representative seek legal counsel from an experienced probate attorney.

This will be to ensure compliance with California’s laws.

Also, it will be to handle any potential challenges that may arise during the process.

Additionally, consult the official California Courts website for probate-related resources and forms.

It is advisable for detailed guidance throughout the process.

1. Initiate The Probate Process:

The probate process starts with filing a considerate petition in the California Superior Court via the DE-111 form.

This petitioner, a family member or beneficiary, files this petition.

It is usually in the country where the deceased person lived at the time of their death.

In the petition, the petitioner should request to be appointed as the estate’s representative. 

As per California’s Probate Code 8461, there is a detailed order of priority.

It is for individuals who may serve as the personal representative.

However, If no one is willing or able to serve, the court may appoint a public administrator.

2. Notification And Notice To Heirs And Beneficiaries:

Once the court accepts the petition, it will issue a notice of hearing.

This notice informs all interested parties about the probate proceedings and the scheduled court hearing.

The parties also include heirs and beneficiaries,

The notice must be served personally or through certified mail to all potential heirs and beneficiaries.

3. Appointment Of The Personal Representative:

At the court hearing, the judge reviews the petition and any objections or disputes from interested parties.

If there are no major objections, the judge will appoint the petitioner as the estate’s personal representative.

The personal representative is an asset when wondering what happens if you die without a will in California.

4. Inventory and Appraisal of Estate Assets:

Once probate is initiated, the court will appoint an administrator to manage the estate.

One of the initial steps involves creating an inventory and appraisal of the decedent’s assets.

It includes valuing properties, investments, and personal belongings.

This will be governed through California Probate Code Section 8800.

The personal representative is responsible for inventorying all the deceased person’s assets.

The assets include real estate, personal property, bank accounts, investments, and other valuables.

Appraisals may be necessary to determine the value of certain assets accurately.

5. Manage And Preserve Estate Assets:

The personal representative manages and preserves the estate’s assets during probate.

This includes paying ongoing expenses like utilities, property taxes, and mortgage payments for real estate.

The personal representative must also make decisions to protect the estate’s value.

This includes selling assets if necessary.

6. Notice To The Creditors:

The personal representative must publish a legal notice to creditors in a local newspaper.

This will alert any potential creditors of the deceased person to file their claims within a specified period.

This typically provides creditors with four months to make their claims.

7. Review And Settlement Of Creditor Claims:

After the notice period, the personal representative evaluates any creditor claims filed against the estate.

Valid claims must be paid from the estate’s assets.

If insufficient assets cover all debts, the personal representative must prioritize payments.

These will be according to California law.

8. Distribution To Heirs And Beneficiaries:

As discussed earlier, once all the taxes have been paid, the remaining assets must be distributed.

According to California’s intestacy laws, the assets will be distributed among the legal heirs and beneficiaries.

9. Final Accounting And Report:

The personal representative must prepare a final report detailing all transactions related to the estate.

This report is filed with the court for review and approval.

10. Closing The Estate:

After the court reviews and approves the final accounting and report, the judge issues an order closing the estate.

The personal representative is released from duties, and the probate process is concluded.

Thus, this whole process helps you know what to do and what happens if you die without a will in California.

The Duration Of Probate Take in California If You Die Without A Will In California?

The duration of probate proceedings in California is primarily contingent upon the complexity of the estate.

Typically, the process may take several months to over a year.

The California Probate Code outlines a series of legal steps that must be followed.

This includes appointing an administrator, notification of heirs and creditors, inventory, and appraisal of assets.

Moreover, the payment of debts and taxes and distribution of the estate to beneficiaries are also its parts.

Delays can arise due to litigation, asset valuation challenges, or creditor claims, elongating the probate timeline.

Therefore, individuals should seek legal counsel to navigate the intricacies of probate.

Excluded Assets From the Intestate Estate If A Person Dies Without A Will In California?

In California, certain assets may be excluded from the intestate estate.

These may not go through the probate process.

These typically include:

Assets with designated beneficiaries: Assets like life insurance policies and retirement accounts will pass directly to those beneficiaries outside of probate.

These also include payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) accounts with named beneficiaries.

– Jointly owned property: Property owned as joint tenancy with rights of survivorship will be transferred to the surviving co-owner(s).

This will be upon the decedent’s death.

– Assets in a living trust: Assets placed in a living trust during the decedent’s lifetime will be shared according to the conditions of the trust.

This will not go through probate.

It’s important to note that the specifics of what is excluded from the intestate estate can vary.

This will depend on the circumstances and the value of the assets involved.

Consulting with an attorney or a legal expert in California is advisable.

This is to properly understand the state’s laws and how they apply to a particular situation.


What happens if you die without a will in California can lead to many legal and financial complications.

Such problems may not reflect your intentions for your estate.

It is advisable to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to draft a comprehensive will and estate plan.

You can protect your loved ones from unnecessary stress by taking proactive steps to create a legally sound will.

Estate planning is a responsible and practical way to preserve your legacy.

This will be per your desires while minimizing the burdens associated with intestacy proceedings in California.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I Avoid Probate Without A Will In California?

While some assets may bypass probate, many will still require probate proceedings.

Assets with designated beneficiaries and those held in a living trust can avoid probate.

However, other assets, such as real estate solely owned by the deceased, may still need to go through the probate process.

It helps in knowing what happens if you die without a will in California.

2. Who Will Be Appointed As The Administrator Of My Estate Without A Will?

In the absence of a will, the court will appoint an administrator.

Typically, a surviving spouse or a close family member may request to be the administrator.

Still, the court will decide based on the law and individual circumstances.

3. What Happens To The Minor Children If Someone Dies Without A Will?

If you have minor children and pass away without a will, the court will determine guardianship based on the children’s best interests.

Family members or friends may express their interest in guardianship, but the court will decide.

4. Can I Protect My Assets’ Distribution Preferences Without A Will?

With a will, you will have control over asset distribution preferences.

You should create a will or establish a living trust to ensure your assets go to specific individuals or organizations.

It allows you to outline your wishes and preferences for asset distribution after passing.

Terry L. Crump

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