Understanding California's Intestate Succession Laws


To understand the importance of a properly prepared estate plan, it's helpful to look at California's intestate succession laws.

People who die without an estate plan are said to have passed away "intestate". Their property is distributed as follows:

  • If you are married your spouse inherits all of your community property. How much of the separate property your spouse inherits depends on how many children you have. If you have one child (or that child is deceased and left one grandchild) your spouse will inherit half of the separate property and the child or grandchild will take the other half. If you have more than one child (or your children have died, leaving grandchildren), your spouse will inherit one-third of the separate property and the other two-thirds will be distributed among your children and grandchildren. For purposes of the law, legally adopted children share the same status as biological children; however, it does not include step children or foster children, unless they can prove that their relationship with you began when they were minors and that you would have adopted them if it were legally possible.
  • If you are married and have no children, your spouse will inherit half of your separate property and your parents will inherit the remaining half. If your parents have passed away, your siblings stand to inherit half of your separate property. For the purpose of intestate succession, half siblings share the same inheritance rights as full blooded siblings.
  • If you are single, all of your property passes to either your children, parents, or siblings.
  • If you have no living family members, the state keeps all of your property. In practice, this rarely happens as the intestate laws allow for even distantly related family members to inherit if no closer relatives are found.

However, intestate succession only affects assets that would normally be transferred via a will. The following assets are not affected because they already have a co-owner or named beneficiary:

  • Property owned in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivorship
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Retirement funds
  • Payable on death bank accounts
  • Assets that are part of a living trust

How Can We Help?

Estate plans must be personalized to fit individual circumstances. Our Pasadena estate planning firm can help you create a plan that best addresses your specific needs. Please call our office at (626) 683-8113 or email us at info@PasadenaLawOffice.com to schedule an appointment.