Unfortunately many people in California failed a plan for their death and without proper planning and your estate will probably be subject to California’s Interstate Succession laws. These laws simply try to find someone to give your assets to when you’ve not made a plan yourself. The law starts by looking for your closest relatives and if there aren’t any it works its way out from there to find any relatives to give your estate to. So, let me try and give you an oversimplified explanation of how this works strictly to illustrate how California law tries to distribute your estate. But please remember this is only a summary and you’ll need to refer to the actual law to see exactly how the distributions might work in any particular case.
Generally speaking though distributions under Interstate Succession law first flow to spouses, children, and grandchildren. This could be seen as looking down the family tree. Then distributions generally go to or through the decedent’s parents, siblings, and also nieces and nephews. This might be seen as looking up the family tree. And finally distributions flow sideways from there, first to grand-parents, then aunts, uncles, cousins and so on. And if no immediate relatives are available the state of California actually gets to receive your assets.
These rules are slightly different though depending on whether the decedent was married or single at the time of death. If a decedent was not married at the time of death assets are distributed pretty much the way that was just described. But if the decedent was married at the time of death things become a little bit more complicated because how assets are to be distributed depends on whether they are characterized as community property or separate property assets. So, there you have it if you do nothing California has a plan for you already in place. It may not be what you or your heirs want but it’s what you’ll get without proper planning.