What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will in California? 2024

24Apr, 24

If you are a California resident and one of your family members has recently passed away, a question you may have is, what happens when someone dies without a will in California? This is an important question to ask. It is important for family members and individuals to be prepared for a scenario in which someone dies without a will in place to coordinate their estate.

Dying without a will in place is considered to be an intestate death. If someone dies without a will, then their estate will likely proceed to probate court. Probate court will oversee the division of the deceased’s estate. The estate can include personal property such as money, jewelry, or cars, as well as real property such as real estate. The probate courts will divide the property among the surviving family members.

In California, if there is a surviving spouse, then the property will likely go to them first. If there is no surviving spouse, then the property will likely go to any children and then to the nearest relative after that. An administrator will likely be appointed by the state to handle this distribution.

Duties of Probate Administrator

The probate administrator will be responsible for identifying all of the estate’s assets, paying off creditors, paying taxes, and distributing the estate’s property as appropriate. The administrator’s duties can include:

  • Taking inventory and appraisal of the assets. The administrator is responsible for creating a detailed inventory of the deceased’s assets. This can include real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, jewelry, and any other property owned by the deceased. Third-party appraisals may be necessary to determine the fair market value of any of the assets.
  • Managing the estate. During the probate process, the administrator is responsible for managing and preserving the assets. This could include overseeing financial accounts, ensuring payments are met, and that properties are maintained.
  • Filing court documents. Throughout the process, the administrator must file the required legal documents with the court. This can include inventory accountings, appraisals, and petitions for distribution. This is to keep the court informed of the probate progress.
  • Distributing assets. Once all the necessary debts and taxes are settled, the administrator is responsible for distributing the remaining estate to the appropriate beneficiaries.
  • Closing the estate. Once all assets have been properly distributed, the administrator may petition the court to close the estate.


Q: Who Inherits When There Is No Will in California?

A: If there is no will in California, then the surviving spouse is likely to inherit half of the assets while the other half may be passed down to children, parents, siblings, etc. In this event, property distribution will be determined by analyzing if the deceased had some form of trust, beneficiary designation, or joint tenancy in place. If not, then a formal probate procedure may be necessary. During the probate procedure, an administrator may be assigned to oversee the property distribution and estate transfer.

Q: How Long Does Probate Take in California Without a Will?

A: Going through the probate process without a will in California can take anywhere from six to eighteen months, depending on the complexity of the estate. Under California state law, probate is to be completed within one year of someone being appointed as executor. However, there are some exceptions and reasons as to why it may take longer. Probate typically cannot begin until after the deceased’s funeral, and it can take the executor some time to locate all assets, pay off creditors, and handle taxes.

Q: What Are the Disadvantages of Dying Without a Will?

A: One of the biggest disadvantages to dying without a will is that your loved ones may not receive your entire estate. Without a will in place, loved ones could face a long legal battle with the courts to prove that they are entitled to the estate of the deceased. The state may decide to split the estate up in a way that is against the wishes of the deceased. This is why it is vitally important that you have a proper will in place.

Q: What Is the Order of Next of Kin in California?

A: The order of next of kin in California means that the closest living family members to the deceased are entitled to the inheritance of the estate. The order of kin goes to the surviving spouse or domestic partner first, then children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and finally, cousins. Next of kin matters in cases where one dies without a will in place or if the mental or physical capacity of the individual comes into question.

Q: What Does a Will Do?

A: A will is a legal document that outlines and coordinates the distribution process of your assets after your death. It can be a good tool to use to ensure that your surviving family members receive the portion of your estate that you give to them. Additionally, a will is important to have in place because it ensures your wishes are clearly and precisely communicated after your death. Without a will, there is no guarantee that your estate will be fully distributed to your surviving family members.

A Legal Team That Can Help

Having a will in place is one of the most important steps in the estate planning process. It is important that you create a plan for what will happen to your assets upon your death. You worked hard to build your legacy, and you want to make sure that those assets are protected. You could avoid the unnecessary steps of the probate process by ensuring that you have a will in place. If one of your family members died without a will, then you should speak with an attorney.

At Sakamoto & Ruelas, APC, our legal team is experienced in estate planning, probate, trust administration, and everything else related to estate law. Our team can review your situation and provide the necessary legal advice you need. We bring the compassion, dedication, and determination needed to find the right solution for you. Contact our office today to speak with one of our legal professionals for help.

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