INTESTATE SUCCESSION – DYING WITHOUT A WILL

What happens when someone dies without a will (called, “dying intestate”)? Who gets what?

In California, when someone dies without a will, or with a will that does not dispose of all of his or her property, the laws of intestate succession determine who the decedent’s heirs are, and how much they will get of the estate.

Valid Wills and Revocation

What constitutes a valid will? Can great Aunt Sally create a valid will by writing “I leave all of my earthly possessions to my cockatiel Cornelius. – Sally” in lipstick, on her vanity mirror? Does it need to be witnessed or notarized? 

A testator (the person making the will) generally must be 18 years old to make a valid will in California, unless they’re an emancipated minor.

What does Probate Administration consist of?

Probate administration entails, at its most basic:

Submitting the Decedent’s will (if there is one) to the appropriate Probate Court (“the Court)”;
Obtaining Letters of administration (with or without a will) and an order for Probate;
Providing proper and timely Notice of Petition to administer the Decedent’s estate, and filing proof of same with the Court;
Attending the hearing on Petition, or telecourt appearance for same;
Filing Duties and Liabilities of Representative or Executor;
Obtaining a taxpayer identification numbers;
Notification to proper government agencies;
Obtaining and submitting proper documentation for the purpose of attaining authority over the Decedent’s assets;
Identifying and gaining control of the Decedent’s assets;
Maintaining the Decedent’s assets (maintaining the condition and safety of real and personal property; making appropriate investments; ensuring cash accounts are held in interest-bearing accounts);
Arranging preparation of final personal income tax returns, and for estate returns;
Preparing and submitting Inventory & Appraisal of Decedent’s date of death assets to probate referee;
Paying debts not requiring formal claims;
Approving or Rejecting creditor claims;
Filing and Inventory & Appraisal with the Court;
Keeping track of all income, receipts, costs and losses, and providing a formal accounting to the Court;
Preparing and submitting a Final Order with Accounting and Proposed Distribution, which also requires giving proper notice to beneficiaries and other necessary parties, and filing Proof of same;
Determining and paying statutorily calculated fees for attorney and representative/executor;
Attending hearing or telecourt on same;
Making court-ordered distributions and obtaining Receipts;
Filing Receipts;
Filing Petition for Discharge of Representative or Executor;

In addition to these tasks, handling Objections to, e.g., the Petition for Probate, or to a Claim rejection or to the Proposed Final distribution, may be necessary.