When an individual dies without a will, their property is distributed according to the intestacy laws in Orange County. The laws consider various factors, such as the decedent’s surviving close relatives, marital status, and the type of property owned by the estate.

In contrast to a will, intestacy removes the decedent’s ability to decide how to distribute their estate. The process can lead to disputes among the deceased’s relatives and beneficiaries. Legal counsel from an experienced wills attorney could help prevent these arguments.

Intestacy Distributions Depend on the Type of Property or Assets

An initial issue the Orange County probate court will consider for intestacy is what type of property the estate legally owns. When the individual is married, or in a registered domestic partnership, the disposition of those assets through probate will depend on whether the property was acquired before or after the marriage.

CA Probate Code § 28 defines community property as assets acquired during the marriage. Assets are also considered quasi-community property when acquired outside the state but would have been recognized as community property if the decedent were domiciled in the state at the time of purchase, according to CA Prob. Code § 66.

Separate property is defined as assets acquired by the deceased person prior to the marriage or domestic partnership, CA Family Code § 770. The term also includes assets acquired by the decedent after the marriage through an inheritance.

A potential source of conflict in probate is when the testator gets divorced or terminates a domestic partnership after creating a legally valid will. In that case, CA Prob. Code § 6122 stipulates certain dispositions are automatically revoked.

Additionally, certain asset types are excluded from intestacy proceedings, such as financial accounts, life insurance policies with a named beneficiary, and assets placed in a living trust.

Intestacy is Mandatory When No Will Exists

CA Prob. Code § 6400 mandates that a deceased person’s property is distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws when there is no will at death.

In Orange County, distributions through intestacy laws depend on factors such as the existence of the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, or other close relatives such as their parents or siblings. When the decedent has a spouse but no children, the spouse will generally inherit all the assets subject to probate.

When the deceased has surviving children, but no surviving spouse, CA Prob Code § 6402 provides that the children will inherit the assets equally subject to probate proceedings.

Calculating how assets are distributed under intestacy can become complex as the number of potential beneficiaries increases. The rules also consider whether the assets are community or separate property.

Special Rules and Considerations for Intestacy Distributions

Intestacy distributions in Orange County must potentially account for several rules that address different scenarios and family structures. For example, the state has specific rules to address situations, such as when a decedent’s child is not related biologically. Adopted children automatically receive the same share of the intestate distribution as if they were biological, according to Cal. Prob. Code § 6450.

However, the decedent’s foster or stepchildren are only entitled to receive a share when they can provide evidence the relationship began while they were a minor and the decedent was legally barred from adoption, according to Cal. Prob. Code § 6454.

The state also has rules to address a situation where a decedent and potential beneficiary die within days of each other. The state’s survivorship rule stipulates a beneficiary must survive for 120 hours after the decedent to inherit through intestacy.

The rule of advancement requires that a court deduct gifts received by a beneficiary during the decedent’s lifetime from their inheritance. The probate court will only take such action when both parties have written acknowledgement that the gift was meant as an advancement, Cal. Prob. Code § 6409.

Call an Attorney in Orange County Today to Consult About Intestacy Laws

A wills attorney could advise you on how the intestacy laws in Orange County could impact a probate proceeding. Other considerations that can impact intestacy are half-relatives, the existence of grandchildren, or when the decedent is legally separated from their spouse at the time of death.

You should consult with an attorney as soon as possible when you are dealing with a potential intestacy distribution in probate court. Contact our office today to set up a private consultation.

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