Whenever a person dies without having any will, trust, or other estate plan in place, their property is passed on by the laws of “intestate succession.” Those laws are set forth in California’s statutes. To whom property is passed after creditors are paid and in what shares depends on which (if any) relatives the decedent leaves behind (and, in some cases, whether the decedent had a spouse who previously died within a specified number of years before the decedent) and may also depend on whether the property is characterized as community property or separate property. The persons who may be eligible to take by intestate succession are the “heirs” of the decedent.
The laws of intestate succession may also apply in other circumstances, such as to the extent that one or more assets were left out of the decedent’s estate plan or to the extent that part of an estate plan is invalid and no other provision was made for the assets subject to that invalid part.
For assets to be distributed by intestate succession, a petition in probate usually is required. An interested party files a petition, after which the court formally appoints a personal representative, who operates under a fiduciary duty. The personal representative proceeds to manage the intestate estate, including by gathering and inventorying the estate’s assets, identifying and paying appropriate creditors, providing for payment of any taxes, identifying who takes any remainder of the estate, and then distributing the remainder after making a final report to the court of the probate administration.
If you believe you may have some right in a decedent’s estate and you believe that there was no estate plan in place (or no copies of the estate plan can be found) or you believe that that are other questions about intestate succession, please e-mail or call Jim Bush for a no-charge conference about your possible interests.
*The law in this area frequently evolves. This discussion is meant only to set out current general principles, which are subject to exceptions as well as to change by statute and by case law. You should not rely on this discussion in addressing your legal obligations and rights or your legal questions but should instead consult an attorney.