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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Don’t Have a Will? Here’s What Will Happen to Your Estate

What will happen to my estate if I die without a will in California?

Less than half of all Americans, 44 percent, have a will in place that describes how their estate should be handled after their death, according to the latest Gallup poll.  Many people share the view that a will is unnecessary unless they have a large estate.  However, a will is one of the most vital estate planning tools available to Californians.  Everyone in California, regardless of their age or estate size, should have a will.  Below is a look at what will happen if you die intestate or without a will in California.  Once you understand the potential consequences of dying without a will, you can take action by contacting a California estate planning lawyer.

Intestate Succession Rules

Without a will in place, California’s intestacy laws will determine who receives your assets.  All assets that would have gone through your will are distributed to your closest relatives according to state law.  Assets that may not go through intestate succession law include life insurance proceeds, property held in a living trust, or funds in an IRA.   These assets will be passed to the surviving co-owner or the named beneficiary.

Under intestate succession, who gets your assets will depend on who your closest relatives are when you die.  For example, if you die with a living spouse and children, your spouse will inherit all of your community property and a portion of your separate property (determined by the number of children).  Your children would inherit the remainder of your separate property.  If you are not wed, and do not have a living parent or sibling, but have children, your children will receive everything.  

Without a will in place, you will have no control over which of your relatives will receive your assets.  Intestate laws could leave out stepchildren that you have not legally adopted or half-siblings, and could include estranged parents or siblings.  Even further, your assets could end up going to the state of California if a living heir is not located.  On top this, assets may be subjected to hefty taxes and could be held for months or even years if disputes arise over distribution of the assets.  With a simple will in place, you can ensure your hard-earned assets go to who you select and help your family to avoid unnecessary expense and heartache.

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