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Who gets what when one dies without a will?

As the initial sadness that often accompanies the death of a loved one begins to abate, new concerns may rise up amongst you and others impacted by their loss. One of them may be the distribution of their estate. Such concerns can easily be resolved provided that your family member or friend left behind a trust or will detailing their wishes, yet what if they did not? In such a case, it is said that they died “intestate.” The state has established guidelines that specifically deal with intestate succession

These guidelines can be found in Section 6401 of the California Probate Code. Here, it stipulates that if you are the spouse of the decedent, then you are automatically entitled to one-half of your spouse’s share of your community and quasi-community property. As to the separate property belonging to your spouse, you would be entitled its entirety if your spouse has no living descendants or immediate family members. Your portion would be reduced to one-half if your spouse left behind a single descendant or was survived by their parents. Your share would be one-third of the separate property in any of the following scenarios: 

  • Your spouse is survived by multiple children
  • Your spouse is survived by one child and the children of one more deceased children
  • Your spouse is survived by the children of two or more deceased children

In cases where you are more distant relative of the decedent, any entitlement you may have to their intestate estate would depend on the familial bond you share. Any portion of the decedent’s property not passed to their surviving spouse (or the entire estate if there is no surviving spouse) would pass in equal portion along the following lines: direct descendants, parents, siblings, grandparents, stepchildren, next of kin, and in-laws.