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What if your parents die without a last will or estate plan?

Most children tend to assume that their parents have their lives together. You imagine that your parents have taken all the necessary steps to protect themselves and their legacy as they age. However, even the most responsible and proactive adults can fail to adequately plan for their golden years.

Some people put off estate planning or the creation of a last will until well after they retire. Others may simply never get around to making one. It's even possible that your loved one created a last will but put it somewhere that you can't find or can't access.

You might have gone your entire adult life assuming your parents' financial affairs were in order, only to find out the opposite shortly after their death. If you have recently learned that your parents passed away without an estate plan or last will, you probably have questions about what will happen to their assets and the estate.

California has laws for managing estates without a will

California probate and estate law specifically addresses how the courts should handle situations where someone dies without a will. Those who do not leave an estate plan or will behind are said to have died intestate. Without a last will in place, the intestate succession laws of California dictate how the courts distribute assets.

Typically, the nature of the family will be a major factor in who gets what. If only one of your parents has died, but the other is still alive, the estate will pass to your surviving parent. It will then pass to the remaining heirs upon the death of your surviving parent.

If your parent died and you have a living stepparent, the courts will handle the estate somewhat differently. You will likely split the estate evenly with your stepparent. If you have siblings, you will receive two thirds of the estate, with your stepparent receiving the remaining third.

Protect your rights during intestate succession

If you had a close and positive relationship with your parents, you likely have an understanding of what they hoped would happen with their assets. From leaving money to a specific charity to providing for extended family members not covered in intestate succession, there are wishes and hopes that you may wish to carry out on behalf of your parents.

Working with an experienced California probate attorney can help you secure a positive outcome that protects your rights as a child of the family and the wishes of your parents as you understand them. If you believe that your parent has died without a will in place, you should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible to determine what the best course of action is for your specific circumstances.

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