There are numerous cases when someone with considerable assets passes away without an estate plan, such as having trusts or a will. If there is only one heir, that individual is entitled to the entire estate. But what if the decedent left more than one heir? How is the property distributed if the decedent died intestate, or without a will?
In California, you must take into account that it is a community property state so that if there is a living spouse, that individual will receive one-half of the community property, or generally that property acquired during the marriage. There may be issues as to what constitutes community or separate property for purposes of determining how that property is to be properly distributed.
The spouse may receive one-half of the separate property if only one child survived or the issue of a deceased child is living, or one-third if more than one child survived.
If the decedent did not marry or left no surviving spouse, then the estate is divided as follows:
- Any children receive equal shares of the estate, if they are in the same generation
- If no children, the estate passes to the decedent’s parents, if still living
- If the parents are not living, it passes to the decedent’s siblings. Should a sibling have deceased but have children, or issue, those children receive what their sibling parent would have received.
In cases where there are no living issue, siblings, issue of siblings or parents, then the estate passes to the grandparents, if still living. Otherwise, it passes to the issue of the grandparents, or uncles and aunts of the decedent.
Further down the line, if there are aunts or uncles, the cousins of the decedent will acquire the estate.
If you have assets that you wish to be distributed easily and with little expense to your heirs or your estate, consult with an experienced trusts and estates attorney who can help you to plan how best to distribute your hard earned assets upon your passing.