While it is true that a will is one of the most common estate planning tools, not everyone has one. As all Los Angeles estate planning lawyers can tell you, with a will you will be able to establish exactly how they want their estate to be distributed upon their death. Without a will, though, you will have no control over the distribution of their property. Instead, your estate will be divided up according to the laws of intestate succession in their state. Here, your Los Angeles estate planning lawyers will explain what happens if you are not married and you die without a will.
What does the term “intestate succession” mean?
The term intestate succession refers to the distribution of an estate where there is no will or other instructions left behind. In this situation, when a person dies without a will, there are specific laws in each state that address the disposition of that person’s assets to their spouse and/or heirs. These laws include laws of descent and distribution and marital rights in the estate, which apply to a surviving spouse. Together, these laws are referred to as the laws of intestate succession.
Distribution of an estate with a surviving spouse and children
For California residents who leave a spouse and children behind when they die, the surviving spouse inherits all of the community property and one-half or one-third of your separate property. Children inherit one-half or two-thirds of your separate property.
If your spouse survives you, but you have no children, and your parents are still alive, your spouse inherits all of your community property and one-half of your separate property. Meanwhile, your parents inherit the remaining half of your separate property. The same division would apply if only your spouse and siblings survive you. If you have questions, Los Angeles estate planning lawyers have the information you need.
Dying without a will or a spouse
As a rule, if you die without a will in California your assets will go to your closest relatives. If you die with surviving children, but no spouse, parents or siblings, your children will inherit everything in your estate. If you die with a surviving spouse, but no children, parents or siblings, then your spouse inherits everything. Your parents are next in line, meaning, if you have no surviving spouse, children or siblings, they will inherit. The same is true if only siblings survive you.
If you and your spouse are not divorced, but legally separated, at the time of your death, your spouse will not be entitled to any of your property. In California, the rules for married couples also apply to registered domestic partners.
How children’s shares are affected
Children are entitled to a share of their parent’s estate, but there are factors that affect the size of that share. More specifically, the size of each child’s intestate share of your estate depends on how many of your children survive you and whether or not you have a surviving spouse. In order for children to inherit, in California, they must be legal children, which includes biological children, adopted children, and children conceived by you, but not born before your death (posthumous children). If you have questions about how your children’s shares will be affected, contact our Los Angeles estate planning lawyers.
Some “children” do not inherit automatically
There are some categories of “children” who do not inherit automatically from a parent’s estate. For example, foster children and stepchildren, who have never been legally adopted do not automatically receive a share.
However, there are certain situations where a foster child or stepchild can inherit. If it can be established that the relationship with the foster or stepchild began while the child was a minor and continued throughout the lifetime of the parent and child. Another option is establishing that the parent would have adopted the child if it had been legally possible.
Adopted children and inheritance
A child who has been placed for adoption and legally adopted by another family do not receive a share of your estate. This does not include biological children adopted by your spouse. Children born outside of marriage may receive a share if they prove that you acknowledged them and contributed to their support.
If you have questions regarding wills, intestate succession, or any other estate planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group for a consultation, either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.