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  • Writer's pictureTim Riswold

No estate plan? Your in-laws might get your property

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

In California, your property could end up in your in-law’s hands! Although it is a remote possibility, California law provides that under certain circumstances, your in-laws will receive all of your property when you pass away (1). You might be asking how this could be. The answer lies in California’s law on “intestate succession.”

If you pass away without an estate plan, California provides a default method for distributing your property when you die. The method is called intestate succession. The rules of intestate succession apply automatically if you do not have a trust or will. Importantly, intestate succession only determines who gets your property. Your property will still likely need to go through probate.

Under intestate succession rules, there are a range of possibilities as to who can receive your property at death. It operates by process of elimination, each scenario depending heavily on who outlives you. The law of intestate succession favors your closest family members. For example, if you have a spouse but no living immediate family members then your property all goes to your spouse (2). Or if have one child and no spouse, your child receives everything under intestate succession (3). If you have no spouse or children, then your parents will receive your property if they are still living (4). If none of those relations are alive, more remote relations are in line to receive your property. If you pass away without any close relatives, it is possible that long lost cousins, and in rare cases, your in-laws, could receive your estate.

It should be noted that the examples above are designed only to show how intestate succession works. Matters become more complicated when property is characterized as community or separate property.

Intestate succession is not perfect. If intestate succession sounds unsettling to you, it can be easily avoided. You can decide who gets your property and how much of it by creating a will or a trust. It should go without saying that estate planning will not solve all the world’s problems, but you can at least prevent your in-laws from getting your property.

(1) California Probate Code § 6402 (g)

(2) California Probate Code § 6401 (c)(1)

(3) California Probate Code § 6402 (a)

(4) California Probate Code § 6402 (b)


The information in this blog is intended only as general information, and under no circumstances constitutes legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. The information should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific legal advice concerning your particular situation.

For advice specific to your situation, contact us to schedule an appointment.

About the Koons & Riswold Law Office

Koons & Riswold maintains an office in Davis, CA and Auburn, CA to provide clients with legal services in Auburn, Davis, and the surrounding areas. Our Auburn and Davis lawyers provide legal services, which include: Living Trust and Estate Planning services, Probate, Elder Planning, and Trust and Estate Administration. Our lawyers have deep roots in Northern California, having strong familial, community, and professional ties to the region.

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