By Last Updated: October 14th, 2022

Dying Without a Will in California

No one wants to think about it, but a very important step to take as an adult is making a will. While making a will might be something you’ve been putting off, it’s kind of like going to the doctor. You may feel nervous going, but after you’re done, you feel better about having done it. You may even feel like you’ll jinx yourself and something tragic will happen after you go, but in the very unlikely event that happens, it’s better to have your family set up after you’re gone.

What Happens If You Die Without a Will in California?

Unfortunately, dying without a will in California is a common occurrence. Even though we all hope to live to an old age, accidents happen, untimely health issues happen, and life happens. If you pass away without having a valid will, the probate court will allocate your assets according to California’s intestate succession law, which will try to distribute property based on next of kin, excluding out-of-state real estate. But what happens if your loved one passes away without having a will in place? Here are scenarios of what happens when a loved one dies.

What Happens If a Parent Dies Without a Will in California?

When a parent dies without a will in the state of California, the first thing you’ll need to do is to initiate probate proceedings. You’ll do this by getting a parent’s death certificate and sending it to the probate court in your parent’s California county of residence. The probate court will then appoint an estate representative, even if there isn’t a will in place for your parent. If your parent owned real estate outside of California, then that state’s probate court will distribute it according to their state’s intestate succession law.

Other things you’ll need to do:

  • File an income tax return for your deceased parent
  • File an income tax return for your parent’s estate
  • Pay for federal estate taxes if the estate owe money (usually only about 0.5 percent of estates are wealthy enough to owe estate taxes)
  • Collect and catalog all estate assets
  • Pay on all estate debts if money is owed
  • Provide an accounting to the probate court
  • Administer estate assets in accordance with the court (according to California intestate succession law)

What Happens If a Spouse Dies Without a Will in California?

If your spouse passed away without a will while you were married to them, you will be entitled to some or all of their estate. But first you will need to file a California Spousal Property Petition with the probate court to prove that you are a spouse. How do you do this? You’ll fill out and file Form DE-221, where you’ll describe the property and expand on why it belongs to or should legally belong to you.

older couple standing close and smiling at each other outside of Santa Monica Courthouse

What Happens If an Unmarried Relative Dies Without a Will in California?

If you have an unmarried relative that dies without a will in California, typically if they have children, these children will split the probate property. If any of these children are also deceased, then the children’s children (if they have any) will split part of their deceased parent’s share. Confused yet? If the unmarried relative has no children, then legal rules get more complex according to the state.

How to Take Action to Help You and Your Loved Ones

As you can see, dying without a will has a lot of repercussions for family and friends left behind. If you’re worried about money being an issue when creating a will, there are many low-cost legal options in California. Websites like LegalZoom also enable you to create a will online. While it might feel morbid and maybe even a little sad to think about what their life will be like without you, there’s also a sense of peace in knowing your loved ones will be taken care of and that you’re removing the stress of uncertainty and potential for conflict out of their grieving process.

About Opal Cremation

At Opal Cremation, we know how emotional and overwhelming the passing of a loved one can be. We make it our goal to help family and friends of the departed have the space to grieve during this difficult time while we streamline the cremation and funeral planning process for you. Since each family and individual is different, we have a number of all-inclusive packages for cremation services that can be customized for each family and loved one. Another convenience is that we’re happy to make arrangements for cremation over the phone rather than having to set up an in-person consultation that takes you away from your family and friends. With our team standing ready to help 24 hours a day, we are always available to guide you through every step of the process.

For more information, visit our support center where you’ll find a list of frequently asked questions regarding cremation as well as other helpful resources.

Looking for cremation services in the Southern California area?
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