The impact of not leaving a Will behind for your family is a matter of concern. Leaving this one crucial step sets the stage for a distribution process dictated not by the personal wishes of the decedent but by state laws.
These laws, known as intestate laws, govern the distribution of an estate in the absence of a Will. The primary challenge of intestate laws is they open the door for all eligible family members to be considered as potential beneficiaries.
To explain the hierarchy order of the intestate law further, we’ll answer the question of what happens to your stuff if you die without a Will. The answer will clear the concept of estate distribution and also the misconceptions people typically have in mind.
What Happens If Someone Dies Without Leaving A Will?
If someone dies without leaving a Will, the distribution of the assets will be according to the intestate laws. Intestate laws serve as the legal framework for determining the succession of an estate when the deceased has not provided instructions.
Intestate laws follow a hierarchical order for selecting beneficiaries. All relatives from both immediate and extended family can be eligible to inherit. However, the priority will only be given to those closest in relation (the immediate family members).
The extended family of the decedent can also become the legal heir but only if the immediate family members aren’t alive. For example, if a deceased individual has a surviving spouse and children, other relatives like siblings, nieces, and nephews will not be entitled to inherit assets.
Importance of Spouse In Intestate Law of Northern California
One of the most important points of intestate law is whether the decedent has a surviving spouse or domestic partner or not. If the spouse is alive in the case then the community property will pass to the spouse at the time of death.
As for the separate property, it will be divided among all beneficiaries be it children, siblings, parents, the spouse, and so forth. You can read more about the priority order of the intestate law and the difference between community vs separate property below.
Intestate Law Priority Order
Here’s the hierarchy order of the intestate law. The first one in the order would be the priority for the designation of the beneficiary. If the first relative isn’t alive, the assets will then pass to those listed in the second and third order.
Priority Order In Immediate Family:
- Surviving spouse
Priority Order In Extended Family:
- Nieces and Nephews
- Aunts and Uncles
Community Property Vs. Separate Property
Community property means the assets that are owned by both spouses, it typically happens in marriage or domestic partnership. While separate property means the property that’s owned by only one spouse.
In case of community property, if there’s a living spouse everything will go to them as they’re the sole owner of the assets after the death of the other partner. Since the separate property is the one the decedent owns, it goes through probate, and the court decides the heirs.
Spouses also inherit from the separate property but if there are more candidates like children, grandchildren, etc., the court will divide the assets among all. How much share will each beneficiary get depends on the estate and how many beneficiaries there are.
What Property Will Not Be Affected By Intestate Law?
One of the most common misconceptions is that all property goes through the probate process. In reality, it’s not true and everything will not be affected by intestate law. For example, assets in the Trust wouldn’t be distributed as per the intestate law.
Assets held in joint accounts would go to the surviving partner upon the death of the other partner. Similarly, community property is legally considered the rightful possession of the surviving spouse.
Certain assets like 401(k)s or retirement funds pass directly to the beneficiaries designated by the deceased during their lifetime. Not only this, assets like stocks with named beneficiaries easily bypass probate proceedings.
What Happens To A Bank Account When Someone Dies Without A Will?
Intestate laws do not apply to the bank account of the deceased person. This is because bank accounts often operate under a payable-on-death (POD) arrangement, meaning there is a predetermined agreement between the bank and the client regarding the distribution of funds.
As per the agreement, every bank account holder names someone as a beneficiary to receive the funds upon their passing. Since there’s already a beneficiary named to receive the money, the court does not need to intervene with intestate rules.
The simple answer to what happens to your stuff if you die without a will is your assets will go through the probate process. In the probate court, a judge will decide who will inherit your assets within the family.
All of this happens according to the intestate law. As per the law, the property would go to the immediate family members and if they’re not alive, the court will consider the extended family members of the deceased person.
If you don’t want to leave the estate distribution case for the probate hearings, you can consider consulting with our Estate Planning lawyers. We can guide you through the estate planning process and ensure that your property is distributed according to your wishes.