Law Office of Martín O'Hara

What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

Dying without a will can cause added stress and grief for your loved ones after you pass away. Instead of getting to decide what happens with your property after you pass, the state has default rules that decide for you. Additionally, those you leave behind will have to deal with the time, cost and stress of the probate process in court to legally transfer your assets.

Dying without a will is called dying “intestate.” In California, intestate succession laws provide for the decedent’s closest family members to inherit the property.

For example, if you have children and no spouse, your children will inherit everything in equal shares. If you have a spouse and no children, your spouse will inherit everything. If you have a spouse and one child, your spouse will inherit all of your community property (all property acquired during the marriage while living in California) and half of your separate property (property you acquired before marriage, by gift or by inheritance). If you have a spouse and two or more children, your spouse will inherit all of your community property and 1/3 of your separate property, while your children would inherit 2/3 of your separate property in equal shares. The intestate succession laws provide for other distributions as well, including for the parents and grandchildren of the deceased.

Not all property is subject to these intestate rules, however. There are several types of property that aren’t impacted by the intestacy rules. Some examples include:

  • Property that has been transferred to a living trust
  • Proceeds from life insurance policies
  • Assets in payable-on-death or transfer-on-death accounts
  • Cars with transfer-on-death registration
  • Property owned in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship

These listed assets will pass to the designated beneficiary or co-owner without the need for probate.

One of the many benefits of an effective and efficient estate plan is deciding what happens to your property after you die, so that you can provide for your loved ones’ futures. Establishing a will or living trust is one way to ensure that your wishes are followed after you pass on.

If you or a loved one do not currently have a will or a living trust, it is important to speak with an estate planning attorney to develop a plan tailored to your unique needs.

Call the Law Office of Martín P. O’Hara for a free consultation to discuss your estate planning options at (213) 265-7348.