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What happens if you die without a will?

Complications, complications. That’s what happens when you die without a will, and there are a number of scenarios. Families bicker over what property and assets they want. A surviving – but unmarried partner – finds that he or she cannot inherit the property of a deceased partner. And the family of an affluent, long-living uncle had to spend years as well as thousands of dollars in legal fees to settle an estate.

These situations all are avoidable as long as you plan well and prepare a will. Even people in their 20s should consider having a will, especially if you have a young family, gained a significant inheritance or entered the military.

Nearly 60 percent don’t have wills

According to a recent survey from, nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t have wills.

If you die without a will, you have died “intestate.” As a result, state intestacy laws go into effect and determine how your property and assets are distributed. Without a will, you have essentially passed along the decision-making and responsibility to the state, which did not know your intentions and wishes, and does not know your family at all.

What will happen with no will?

Here’s what happens in California if you die without a will:

  • Single with no children: Your parents receive the estate if they are alive. If not, your siblings and half-siblings will get the estate. If there are no survivors among parents and siblings, the estate will pass to nieces and nephews or grandparents, aunts and uncles.
  • Single with children: The estate typically goes to your children in equal shares.
  • Married with no children: Your estate will either go entirely to your spouse if it’s community property such as a home and furniture. If it’s the deceased spouse’s separate property, the surviving spouse will get one-half, and the parents will gain the other half.
  • Married with children: The surviving spouse inherits all of the deceased spouse’s community property. If it’s the deceased spouse’s separate property, the surviving spouse will get one-half or one-third, while the children will get one-half to two-thirds.
  • Unmarried couples: Intestacy laws do not recognize an unmarried partner, who will not inherit anything. The laws only recognize relatives.

You don’t want a judge to determine what happens to your property and assets. Having a will in place may assure that settling your estate goes smoothly, and few problems will surface for your surviving family.

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