Each state in the United States has intestate succession laws that decide which assets go to which relative if a person dies without a will. Since most people do not wish the state to have control of what happens after they pass dying without a will is bad, having a will is smart!

Succession Laws – Dying Without a Will

It is also a great idea to have a will since most your assets will go to your closest relatives – this may not be what you wish. For example, in California:

  • If you have children but no siblings, spouse or parents; the children inherit everything.
  • If you have a spouse but no siblings, children or parents; the spouse inherits everything.
  • If you have parents but no children, spouse, or siblings; the parents inherit everything.
  • If you have siblings, but no children or parents; the siblings inherit everything.
  • If you have a spouse and children, your spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/2 or 1/3 of your separate property, and your children inherit 1/2 or 2/3 of your separate property.
  • If you have a spouse and parents, your spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/2 of your separate property, and your parents inherit 1/2 of your separate property.
  • If you have a spouse and siblings, but no parents, your spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/2 of your separate property, and your siblings inherit 1/2 of your separate property.

Probate Law – Dying Without a Will

There are many reasons to clarify the above descriptions and other facets of inheritance. The California Probate Code answers many questions. To make these decisions legal, probate court is necessary. During the probate process, the court verifies holdings and assets. Many people try to avoid probate because property and belongings are tied up and it can be expensive due to legal fees, assessments, executor fees, and other expenses.

Some assets do not go through probate:

  • Property in a living trust
  • Life insurance
  • Funds in a retirement account
  • Securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration
  • Property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or as community property with the right of survivor-ship

In the assets listed above, there are several used to avoid probate. One of the most used legal solutions is the living trust. The living trust is made when the person is still alive. Changes can be made before death which makes it a revocable trust. This type of trust contains instructions explaining what you want done with your assets and belongings.

So, if you don’t have a will; it is very well spelled out in state law as to what will happen. A will spells out what you want to go to what person or institution, so you can decide differently than what the probate law says. The living trust names executors to handle your estate and assets. A good estate lawyer can go over all of the pluses and minuses that will work best for your situation.

When making legal decisions you should always consult a lawyer to ensure that your wishes are ensured.

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