What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

Schweitzer Law Partners

Ideally, it is best to create an estate plan as early as possible. A will is crucial for allowing you to determine precisely how you want your property to be distributed when you pass away. However, if you die without a will, California's intestate succession laws will determine the future of your estate.

Intestate Succession in California

When someone dies without a will, they die "intestate." California's laws regarding intestate succession decide who will inherit the remainder of the estate. According to California's probate code, the closest relatives will receive any assets that are left behind.

Probate and Designating an Estate Administrator

If there is no will when someone dies, the case will likely go through probate. When a case goes through probate, it means the court will make decisions on how to handle a decedent's estate when they pass away. In cases where there is no will, family members often fight against each other over the estate, making this process emotional, complicated, and time-consuming.

Some cases will need to go to probate court depending on the size of the estate. For a smaller estate, it can pass to other people through an informal procedure, and an informal estate representative will be designated. Typically, this will be the person who is going to inherit a majority of the estate.

However, for larger estates, the case can be more complicated and will need to go through a formal probate court case. During probate, an administrator will be appointed by the court as personal representative. The estate administrator handles the remaining estate, including:

  • Making an audit of their assets, property, and estate

  • Making payments to their creditors

  • Handle estate taxes

  • Ensure all remaining property goes to the right beneficiary

Probate Code §8461 includes a priority list of who is chosen as an estate administrator when there is no will. First priority goes to the surviving spouse or domestic legal partner, followed by children, then grandchildren, and so on. Additionally, an attorney can be an estate administrator.

The estate administrator should be prepared to take their duties seriously, as the process can become very complicated. If an inexperienced person is designated as an estate administrator, the estate can be potentially mishandled.

How Our Estate Planning Team Can Help

The Schweitzer Law Partners has extensive experience in estate administration. If you need a reliable and trustworthy, estate administrator, we are here to help. Probate litigation can be very aggressive and complicated. At Schweitzer Law Partners, we have a thorough understanding of the probate process. Our Pasadena lawyer is prepared to handle your case quickly and efficiently.

Call Schweitzer Law Partners at (626) 788-5225 to schedule a consultation regarding your estate planning needs.