If someone passes away (a decedent) in California and leaves no heirs, descendants, or named beneficiaries, all their property can pass to the state. This is called “escheatment.” There’s a whole website devoted to the matter answering to the Unclaimed Property Law. If there are no heirs, there may also be no will.
The legal term for people without a will is “intestate.” It is important to note that intestate succession laws only apply in the presence of a probate case, which in turn only exists if the decedent did not use any available mechanism or tool to avoid probate. One method to avoid probate is to reduce the estate's total value below the probate threshold, which is $184,500 (as of this writing in August of 2023).
Who Is in Line to Receive An Estate’s Assets in California?
The courts will look hard for any person to be named as an heir to an estate. And it is possible to start a search on your property using the state’s website. Meanwhile, a routine investigation includes the obvious: any surviving spouse, children, cousins (of any level), and grandchildren. But it will also extend to the not-so-obvious choices, such as even the siblings of a spouse who passed away before the decedent.
Without a decedent’s will, the laws will determine which of the possible heirs gets what and at what percentage. For example, if the decedent leaves children but no spouse, they would inherit everything. But in the case of the decedent leaving a spouse and parents, then the spouse would inherit 100% of all community property (meaning property acquired during the marriage) as well as 50% of the shared property (acquired outside of marriage or by specific inheritance) leaving the decedent’s parents to inherit the other 50% of the transferred property. For a more detailed list of all the possible variations of legacies and scenarios, refer to this page from California’s state website to get an idea of where to start.
In talking about heirs, under California law, an heir must be alive for at least 120 hours past the decedent’s death to have the benefit of receiving anything, or even if that person also passes away after the original 120 hours, for any assets to be transferred to that decedent’s estate.
If You Have No Heirs, Family, or Anyone Else to Inherit Your Estate
In California, anything under the control and care of the decedent (if that was you) would pass to the state if no heirs/beneficiaries were found.
If your property were to escheat to the state, then the court has the same responsibility to administer the decedent’s estate and settle all the debts, including taxes. If that means the sale of probate real estate is required, then the court will also take the necessary steps to get it done. The big difference is that after all liabilities have been serviced, whatever assets are left will go into the state’s coffers.
If You Would Rather Have Your Money Go Elsewhere
We cannot recommend an organization or a cause that is near and dear to your heart, but consider that some people leave their estate assets to non-profits. Do you like music? Children’s educational organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs? Are you a sports nut? You could start your non-profit search in California by going here. Also, many national charities can use donations to help them accomplish their mission. Talk with your attorney to see how to word your will correctly.
Wills, Trusts, Probate, and Inheritance
Wills and trusts bring out the worst in families, or we wouldn’t see films, television shows, and stage plays, from dramas to comedies surrounding the reading of the will or the escapades dealing with a decedent’s dying intestate. It’s common, comical, and often catastrophic. In the real world, some people can help. The CREM Group is one of those.
The CREM Group has been in the business of facilitating delicate court-supervised probate real estate sales with high integrity and dedication. The company’s founder, Mark Cianciulli, is a licensed real estate broker, attorney, and CPA. The CREM Group team handles people’s property inside and outside of wills, probate, and trusts. Their testimonials say it all.
Reach out today for a free no-commitment consultation regarding your real estate sale transaction.