Park LaBrea News/Beverly Press, By Stephen Kramer Esq.


If you die intestate (without a will), then California’s laws of descent and distribution will determine who receives your property by default. Contrary to popular belief, if you die without a will, everything you own does not automatically pass to the state. Typically, the distribution will be to your spouse and children and then to other family members. The state’s plan reflects the legislature’s guess as to how most people would dispose of their estate and establishes protections for certain beneficiaries, particularly minor children. The rules of “intestate succession” may or may not reflect your actual wishes. Estate planning affords you the opportunity to alter the state’s default plan to suit your personal preferences.

Disposition Outside The Will
It is important to understand that the transfer of your property after your death may be determined by something other than the laws of intestacy, even when you die without a will. Title to certain categories of property may pass outside the probate estate. Generally, upon your death, your half of any community property presumptively belongs to your surviving spouse. Additionally, if you own property with another person as joint tenants with another person as joint tenants with right of survivorship, the property will pass directly to the remaining joint tenant upon your death and will not be part of your probate estate (it will, however, be a part of your taxable estate). Effective planning requires a knowledge of the consequences of each property interest and type of ownership.