Submitted by Attorney, Linda L. Harper

What happens if you die without a will?

Many famous people have died without leaving a Will, which means the person died “intestate” (most recently Prince and Aretha Franklin).

In California, it is strongly recommended that anyone who has assets should have a Will (and Living Trust) to ensure that the property goes to the people that the person wants to receive it.

Who receives the assets, depends upon which state the person lived in at the time of death since “intestacy” laws vary from state to state.

If you die without a Will or Trust, the following are the common scenarios:

If you’re single without children:
If you’re a single, childless person, your estate will pass to your parents — or it will be divided equally among your siblings and half-siblings if your parents are dead.
If you don’t have any surviving siblings, nieces, or nephews, the estate will be divided between your paternal and maternal relatives.

If you’re single with children:
If you’re a single parent with children, your estate will typically be divided up equally among your kids or, if your children have predeceased you, your grandkids.

If you’re married without any children:
If you’re married and childless, your estate goes to your spouse. However, since most states in the U.S. are “common-law” property states: if you leave behind property designated as “separate property” (meaning that the asset was acquired before the marriage), it could be divided between your spouse, parents, and even your siblings.

If you’re married with children:
If you are currently married and, if all of your children are with that spouse, then your spouse will inherit the entire estate. If you have children from a previous relationship, your estate (assets) will be split between the children and your surviving spouse.

If you’re not married to your partner:
If you are not married to your partner and die, your partner will not receive any of your assets.

If you have a domestic partner:
Whether your domestic partner will inherit your estate varies based on your location, since not all states in the U.S. recognizes domestic partnerships.

Some property doesn’t require a will:
Certain assets and those with specifically named beneficiaries, such as: life insurance benefits, IRAs, 401(k)s, retirement funds or “POD” (payable on death) financial accounts, and assets in a Living Trust typically pass to the named beneficiary.

Once again, we strongly recommend anyone with assets in the State of California seek a qualified legal professional to prepare a Will and Living Trust to ensure that your assets pass to the people that you specifically identify, without the cost and delay of a probate proceeding in the Superior Court of California.

Linda L. Harper is an independent attorney with the Law Offices of Reising, Kennedy, Reising & Reising, located at:

27345 Ortega Highway, Suite 200
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
TEL: (949) 496-8101
FAX: (949) 496-0278