August 24, 2017
Dying intestate, or without a will, is very common. If you die without a will, your property will go through Sacramento County probate and is then distributed according to California’s intestacy laws. Intestacy laws govern intestate property. They go into effect unless there is a valid will to testify to the deceased’s wishes or an established estate plan. In intestate inheritance, a spouse is first in line, then children, then their children, and so on. When there are no heirs in the direct bloodline, the heirs are the parents, then siblings, then nieces and nephews, and so on.
Here are some common events that may happen if you die intestate:
Your immediate next of kin, whomever they are, will likely inherit your property first: lock, stock, and barrel. If you die intestate, everything goes to your next of kin. Your next of kin are the people who have the closest relation to you. If you’re married, then that’s your spouse. If you’re not married, your closest blood relations or equivalent, will inherit your property.
That son- or daughter-in-law you don’t like will get your property before that niece or nephew you do like. Marital property owned by your children is governed by the laws of the states they live in, not you. If they live in a community property state, they’re sharing the inheritance, 50/50. While the laws are different in every state, property acquired during marriage by either spouse may be marital property, especially if used for the benefit of both spouses.
Your heirs could be hit with inheritance taxes (that could have been avoided). The relatives who inherit from you may be subject to a large inheritance tax (both on the federal and state level), depending on the size of the estate and the state where the assets in question are held. While this won’t wipe out their inheritance completely, proper estate planning could have made this a non-issue. For example, a Sacramento County estate lawyer could have helped you create a trust that would have minimized your loved ones’ exposure to taxes.
A little bit of money up for grabs has a very cooling effect on interfamilial relationships. In a perfect world, family members would all get along, never be jealous, and always do right by each other. This isn’t a perfect world. Intestacy laws don’t take into account the relationships the deceased had with anyone or what the deceased orally promised to someone. Even if widowed Uncle Bob told you he wanted you to have his ’65 Thunderbird, without a will, the car is going to his son…who doesn’t even have a driver’s license. The potential for fighting and hard feelings are endless.