Dying without any official dispositive plan, i.e., a will or a trust in place, is called dying intestate. California state laws will then determine the disposition of your assets at death. This is everyone's default estate plan. First, each property held in joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship will automatically pass to the surviving joint tenant or surviving spouse, respectively. Next, anything that passes to a beneficiary by contract, such as, life insurance or retirement plan, will be distributed according to that contract. Lastly, everything else will be governed by the laws of intestate succession. Intestate succession in California is as follows with respect to community property:
Surviving spouse or domestic partner;
If there is no surviving spouse or domestic partner, then to decedent's natural children.
If there are no natural children, then to grandchildren.
If no grandchildren, then to lineal ancestors.
If no lineal ancestors, then to next of kin.
With respect to separate property, your assets will be divided amongst your surviving spouse or partner and your children if any. Then your assets will go to the next lineal descendants, lineal ancestors, and then next of kin.
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