If you die without a will or other type of estate plan, the State of California will determine what will happen to any assets you have. Although each situation may be a little different, there are some generalizations that can be described that will help to see how your estate will be passed if you do not have a will. Dying without a will is known as dying intestate, and California has intestacy laws in order to determine who will get your property.

Small Estate Exemption

Often times a person dying without a will may qualify for the Small Estate Exemption. In 2014, an estate must be worth less than $150,000 to qualify under the Small Estate Exemption. In order for assets to be distributed, an affidavit must be signed under penalty of perjury. The affidavit can be used to transfer bank accounts, real estate, or other assets to your heirs. How to determine whether or not your estate is worth less than $150,000 is not as straightforward as it seems because there are several types of property that would not fall within your “estate” for purposes of determining the Small Estate Exemption.


If you do not qualify under the Small Estate Exemption and you die without a will, your estate will need to go through probate. In order to commence probate, a close living relative will need to file a Petition for Probate in order to get started. Assets will then be split according to California law because there is no will.

There are several types of property that will not need to be divided under probate. For example, in California, all community property assets will be given to your spouse.

In order to avoid these situations, you can have a will and revocable living trust drafted prior to your death. However, if you are in this situation because a close living relative has died without a will, please contact Attorney Anthony Marinaccio at (818) 839-5220 in order to determine the next steps you should make.