What happens if someone dies without an estate plan?

It is an unfortunately common situation. All too often, San Jose residents have the good intentions to draft and execute estate planning documents, only to wait too long and pass away before their estate plans are complete. It can be frustrating and confusing for family members to address a loved one’s death under these preventable circumstances.

When someone dies without an estate plan, their assets pass through California’s laws of intestate succession. This informational post will talk about intestate succession generally, but no part of this post should be interpreted as legal advice. Estate planning questions can be directed to local attorneys who support estate planning needs.

California’s laws of intestate succession

California is a community property state, and when someone dies, there is generally a presumption that half of the property they owned jointly with their spouse is theirs to pass on to descendants. The share of community property that a person owns when they die can be distributed through their estate plan, or it can be passed on through the laws of intestate succession.

Generally, a surviving spouse will inherit the decedent’s property at the time of their death, or they will share it with their or their spouse’s children. When a person does not have a surviving spouse at the time of their death, their property will go to their kids or their children’s descendants. When property cannot pass down a family lineage, it can pass up to a decedent’s parents and to their siblings, or even farther to their grandparents and subsequence descendants.

Why people want to avoid intestate succession

Intestate succession is an effective back-up plan when a decedent has no estate plan prepared before their death. It does not, however, guarantee that the decedent’s wishes will be met through its structure and enforceability. Many individuals may want to skip bequests to certain family members who could inherit from their estates through intestate succession. Without an estate plan, a decedent’s assets may be subject to the rigid structure of the law.

An estate plan helps a person avoid these and other pitfalls. Estate plans do not have to be complex to achieve individuals’ desires. Now is the time to contact a trusted estate planning attorney for advice and support.