Making end-of-life plans is never an easy task, but it is crucial for controlling the future of your assets and ensuring your loved ones receive their inheritances as quickly and seamlessly as possible. It is important to note that such plans are not only for individuals of advanced age or those suffering from terminal conditions. In fact, regardless of your age or health status, you could sustain a debilitating, life-threatening injury or illness at any time that leaves you incapable of communicating your intentions.
If you are unresponsive or declared incompetent, you will no longer be considered of sound mind to make important legal and financial decisions. By handling your affairs now and putting an estate plan in place, you can prepare for any kind of unexpected tragedy and be confident in your ability to safeguard the financial stability of your family members.
The first step in this process is to create a will that clearly names your intended beneficiaries and outlines your instructions for the management, preservation, and distribution of your property and assets. Review the following information to learn how your estate will be handled if you do not make a will; then contact Huber Fox, P.C. to discuss how we can help you protect and care for your loved ones after your death.
Who Gets Assets if There’s No Will?
Each state has its own set of laws regarding how a decedent’s estate should be handled if they die without a valid will in place and fail to secure their property in another way, such as within a trust. In California, dying without a will means most of your property and assets will be distributed to surviving family members according to intestate succession laws. The state will use rules of descent and distribution based on kinship to determine who will receive specific portions of your estate, beginning with your immediate family members before continuing to more distant relatives. While it is possible for individuals to legally challenge the terms of a will in court, intestate succession laws cannot be contested.
To understand how your estate will be distributed, you must first be aware of how the state defines certain key terms:
- A spouse is defined as the person to whom the decedent was legally married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of the death. California laws include same-sex couples. However, cohabitating, common law, separated, or divorced partners do not count as spouses for the purposes of intestate succession.
- Children refer to biological children, adopted children, and children conceived before the decedent’s death but born after the death. Stepchildren are only considered if they were legally adopted by the decedent. Foster children are similarly not considered children of the decedent in intestate succession. Additionally, a child born to unmarried parents can inherit from their birth mother but will need to show proof of paternity to inherit from their father.
- Siblings include brothers, sisters, half-brothers, half-sisters, stepbrothers, stepsisters, and adopted siblings.
- Community property is defined as property or assets held jointly in a marriage or domestic partnership that were acquired by the decedent and their spouse while they were married. Common community properties include real estate, salaries, and joint accounts.
- Separate property is defined as property or assets that the decedent acquired and owned before marriage or acquired during the marriage and held solely in their name. Common separate properties include gifts, inheritances, and retirement accounts.
How Does Intestate Succession Work?
Intestate succession in California adheres to the following standards when you leave behind these combinations of family members:
- A spouse but no children, parents, siblings, or nieces/nephews—your spouse will inherit everything.
- Children but no spouse—your children will inherit everything.
- Parents but no spouse, children, or siblings—your parents will inherit everything.
- Siblings but no spouse, children, or parents—your siblings will inherit everything.
- A spouse and one child or grandchild—your spouse inherits all community property and half of your separate property.
- A spouse and two or more children—your spouse inherits all community property and 1/3 of your separate property. Your children inherit the remaining 2/3 of your separate property.
- A spouse and one child and one or more grandchildren from a deceased child—your spouse inherits all community property and 1/3 of your separate property. Your children inherit the remaining 2/3 of your separate property.
- A spouse and parents—your spouse inherits all community property and half of your separate property. Your parents inherit the other half of your separate property.
- A spouse and siblings but no parents—your spouse inherits all community property and half of your separate property. Your siblings inherit the other half of your separate property.
Any relatives who can inherit an intestate share of your property are legally entitled to this inheritance regardless of their citizenship status or whether they are legally in the US. An individual who “feloniously and intentionally” kills you does not inherit property.
Which Assets Are Not Subject to Intestate Succession?
Only assets that would have been transferred through a will are affected by intestate succession laws, meaning assets you own solely in your name. Certain types of assets are not transferred via a will and are therefore not impacted by intestate succession laws. Regardless of whether you have a will, these assets will pass to the surviving beneficiary or co-owner. The following assets are not subject to intestate succession laws:
- Property you have placed in a revocable trust
- Proceeds from life insurance policies
- Retirement account funds
- Securities held in transfer-on-death accounts
- Bank accounts with payable-on-death beneficiary designations
- Vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration
- Property owned in joint tenancy with another person
- Community property with right of survivorship
Contact Huber Fox Today
If you want to ensure your estate will be distributed according to your wishes rather than through intestate succession, you must create a last will and testament as soon as possible. For the highest degree of protection, you need a comprehensive estate plan that includes several legal documents beyond a will, such as a durable power of attorney, health care directives, beneficiary designations, and revocable or irrevocable trusts. The process might seem intimidating, but an estate planning attorney can help you carefully craft these documents to reflect your wishes and update them as your life circumstances change. Contact Huber Fox, P.C. to learn how we can help you prepare for the future.