California Intestate Succession - Default Estate Plan

December 18, 2015 ·

Just because you have not visited your attorney to draft wills and trusts, you might be surprised to discover that you still have a type of estate plan. California law provides a default plan for those people that fail to make plans for their deaths. This plan is referred to as intestate succession.

I will address married couples and single individuals separately.


Since California is a community property state, the intestate succession scheme is a little complicated. It might be helpful to familiarize yourself with what is community property and what is separate property under California law before reading further (See Explanation of Community Property here).

Community Property

  1. Your one-half of the community property would go to your to your spouse.
  2. Your one-half of the quasi-community property would also go to your spouse.

Separate Property

Here is where it gets a little hairy.

  1. If you did not leave any surviving children, parents, siblings, or nieces or nephews, then your entire estate would go to your spouse.
  2. If you leave only one child, then your spouse would take one-half of your separate property and your child would receive the other half.
  3. If you leave no children, but your parents, siblings or nieces or nephews survive you, then your spouse takes half of your separate property.
  4. If you had more than one child, then your surviving spouse would take one-third and the remainder would be divided among your children.


If you are a single person, intestate succession is fairly straight forward. The following is the order that California’s Probate Code dictates:

  1. If you die without an estate plan and you leave children, your assets will be divided among your children in equal shares.
  2. If you do not leave children, then your assets would pass to your parents in equal shares.
  3. If your parents predeceased you, then your assets would pass to your siblings in equal shares.
  4. If you did not have siblings or they predecease you, then your estate would pass to your grandparents in equal shares.
  5. If your grandparents died before you, then you assets would pass to your cousins in equal shares.
  6. If you had no cousins or they predeceased you, then to your predeceased spouse’s children.
  7. If you did not have a predeceased spouse or that spouse did not have children, then your assets would go to your closest next of kin in equal shares.
  8. If you had no next of kin or all of your next of kin predeceases you, then to your predeceased spouse’s parents in equals shares. If your predeceased spouse’s parents predeceased you, then to your predeceased spouse’s siblings.
  9. Finally, if the Probate Court is unable to locate anyone that is eligible to take your assets, your property will escheat (go to) the State of California.

Tags: California Probate · Estate Planning

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