If a person dies intestate, or without a will, in California, his estate is subject to California's intestacy laws. Unlike a will, which allows a person to name all those he wants to inherit from his estate, intestacy laws automatically consider his living family such as his spouse, children, parents and siblings.
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Surviving Spouse but No Children
All community and quasi-community property goes to the decedent's, or deceased person's, surviving spouse in California. Community property is property that either spouse gained while married and living in California, while quasi-community property is property either spouse obtained in a state that doesn't have community property laws. All the deceased spouse's separate property -- property that belongs to one spouse only, such as a family inheritance -- may go to the spouse if the decedent doesn't have any living parents, siblings or nieces and nephews. If the decedent has living parents, siblings, nieces or nephews, they get one-half his estate and his spouse gets the other half.
A surviving spouse is still entitled to all the community and quasi-community property of the deceased even if the deceased had children. If he has one child, his separate property is divided between the child and his spouse equally. If he had more than one child, the spouse gets one-third of his separate property, with the remaining two-thirds going to the children. If the decedent has no surviving spouse but has surviving children, the children inherit his estate equally in California. California intestacy laws allow for the inheritance by a decedent's grandchildren if their parent, the decedent's child, died before him. The grandchildren inherit the same share that their parent would have received.
Single, No Children
If the decedent was unmarried at the time of death and never had children, his parents receive equal shares of his estate. If his parents are dead, their children -- the decedent's brother and sisters -- divide his estate equally. If he has no living siblings, his grandparents or their surviving descendants -- the decedent's aunts and uncles -- receive his estate. If his grandparents are also dead, and he has no living aunts or uncles, if the decedent had a predeceased spouse, the children of that spouse receive his estate. If the predeceased spouse had no children, more remote relatives, such as the decedent's second cousins, or his predeceased spouse's parents, may inherit the estate. The probate court makes the final determination.
A person must live at least 120 hours after the deceased person died; otherwise, she is considered to have predeceased him under California intestacy laws. Half-blooded relatives inherit the same as a full-blooded relative would. If the decedent put up children for adoption, those children usually don't inherit from his estate because a legal adoption ends the relationship between them.