One of the most important concepts that the average layperson should understand in the area of Wills is intestate succession. Understanding intestate succession can help you understand why creating, and executing, a Last Will and Testament is so important. Although each of the states determines their own laws and procedures with regard to Wills, the concept of intestate succession is a fairly universal concept among the states, including California.
Intestate succession laws become important when someone dies without having left behind a valid Last Will and Testament or Trust. A decedent who died without executing a Will or Trust is said to have died intestate. When a Will is executed, the Will dictates how the decedent’s assets are to be distributed and passed down upon his or her death. When a Will is not left behind, the state’s intestate succession laws will decide how the decedent’s assets are to be distributed and passed down. Although intestate succession laws are typically applicable when no Will is executed, they can also apply even when a Will was executed in the event that the Will does not cover any residual estate assets after all specific bequests have been taken care of under the terms of the Will.
In California, exactly who will inherit, and how much they will inherit, under the intestate succession laws will depend on California statutes. It generally looks first to a spouse and/or children to inherit under intestate succession laws. It can be more complicated where there is both community and separate property. Next in line may be lineal descendants such as grandchildren or other blood relatives such as parents or siblings.
Since all but the most modest intestate estates will likely be subject to the expensive, time consuming and burdensome court process known as probate, it is far better to consult with an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney to allow for the creation of a plan that will avoid the costs and delays at the court house.