Intestate succession, also known as intestacy, is the process of distributing a decedent’s assets when the decedent did not execute a last will and testament or distribute property through another instrument. State law determines how to distribute assets under intestacy, because the decedent left no other guidance for how he or she wants them distributed.
Compared to many other states, California has a complicated scheme of intestate succession. Generally speaking, assets are distributed to the decedent’s closest relatives. The distributions are based on a number of variables, such as the following:
- Whether the assets in the estate are community property, quasi-community property, or separate property;
- Whether the decedent is survived by issue – i.e. direct descendants;
- Whether the decedent is survived by a spouse; and
- Whether the decedent is survived by other relatives such as siblings and parents.
It is highly recommended that you create a will and avoid intestate succession. A will gives you control over the distribution of your assets that you cannot exercise under interest succession. In addition, if you have no surviving relatives under interstate succession, your estate will escheat to the state. This means the government keeps all of it.