The Definition of an Heir in California Probate

by Andrine Redsteer

In California, the term "heir" is defined in the state's probate code. Heirs are people who are entitled to inherit a deceased person's property. California, like other states, has laws that explain who may receive an inheritance when a person dies without a last will and testament. These laws are called "laws of intestate succession," and when a person dies without a will, it is referred to as dying "intestate."

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California Probate

When a person dies with a will, it may be admitted to a California probate court. Probate courts oversee the distribution of a deceased person's estate according to the provisions in his will. Probate courts also oversee the distribution of a deceased person's estate if he died without a will. When there is no will, a probate court distributes a deceased person's estate to his heirs according to California's laws of intestate succession.

Surviving Spouse

In California, surviving spouses are entitled to an inheritance. California is a community property state. This means all property acquired over the course of a marriage is shared equally between spouses. California also recognizes separate property; separate property is everything a husband and wife own separately. If a married person dies without a will, his surviving spouse inherits all community property and all separate property if there are no children.

Children

According to California's probate code, children of a deceased person are entitled to inherit a portion of their parent's separate property. If a married parent dies without a will and has only one child, that child gets one-half of his deceased parent's separate property, and his spouse gets the other half. If there is more than one child, the children receive two-thirds of their deceased parent's separate property in equal shares, and the spouse receives one-third. If a parent dies without a will and is not married at the time of death, children receive their parent's entire estate in equal shares.

Other Family Members

In California, brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents are also legal heirs. If a person dies without a will, was not married at the time of death and has no children, her estate passes to her parents in equal shares. If a person dies without a will, was not married at the time of death and has no children, surviving parents or surviving grandparents, her estate passes to her brothers and sisters in equal shares. If there are no heirs whatsoever, a deceased person's estate passes to the state of California.