Previous posts on this blog touched upon the fact that most American adults do not have any form of an estate plan. You may think that if you do not prepare a will, the job of determining the dispersal of your assets then falls to your potential beneficiaries (thus removing the potential of you causing any tension with your estate decisions).

Yet that is not the case. When someone dies intestate (without a will), it is the state that determines who receives their estate assets (and how much of those assets each respective party receives). A review of California’s intestate succession guidelines may reveal to you that you do not necessarily agree with the state’s terms.

The distribution hierarchy of an intestate estate

Per Section 6401 of California’s Probate Code, if you die without a will, your surviving spouse receives all of your assets and property if you have no lineal descendants or surviving parents or siblings. If you have one surviving descendant (or surviving parents or siblings), your spouse’s interest in your intestate estate reduces to one-half (with the other half going to the aforementioned parties). If you leave more than one descendant (or multiple descendants of a single child), then your spouse’s interest reduces to one-third.

If you do not leave behind a spouse, your intestate estate passes in the following order:

  • To your descendants
  • To your parents
  • To your siblings (or their descendants)
  • To your paternal and maternal kindred
  • To any descendants of a predeceased spouse
  • To the parents of a predeceased spouse

No allowances for non-relatives

You will notice that the state’s intestate succession law makes no allowances for anyone not related to you. If you wish for a non-relative (e.g., a business partner, a charitable organization), to benefit from your estate, you must stipulate those wishes in a will.