Multi generational familyThis is the fourth post in my series on the handling of San Bernardino, California probate cases in which one has died without a will. My last article discussed the process of handling an intestate estate. It is important to understand that process, as attempting to navigate the waters without such knowledge can be tricky. In this post I will address another important topic – how to determine heirs when there is no will.

California, as with other states, considers one to have died “intestate” when one passed away without a will. Cases involving an intestate estate involve the division of property in an order predetermined by our state’s statutes. These statutes contain a long list of possible scenarios and property will be divided according to the scenario which applies to the given situation. Examples of how property will be divided include:

  • If one passes with a spouse, no children, and surviving parents then the spouse will inherit all community property and ½ of any separate property. The parents will inherit the remainder of the separate property
  • If one passes with a spouse, no children, no surviving parents, and siblings then the spouse will again receive all community property, ½ of any separate property, and the siblings will inherit the remainder

These are just a few examples of how the laws apply. It is important to understand that, under this system, it does not matter if the deceased would have preferred a different distribution. If, for example, the deceased was estranged from his or her siblings the fact of the matter will be that they are still entitled to inherit. Arguments over the deceased’s intent are not relevant to the Court.

The first step in dividing property, under the system described above, is to determine what possible heirs there are. While this may seem straightforward, it is not necessarily so. For example, if one had a child outside of wedlock then that child may or may not be an heir. For such a child to inherit they would have to prove that the deceased acknowledged them as a biological relative and that the deceased provided care and support at some point during the child’s life. Issues such as this can lead to disputes over the deceased’s conduct, what was said to whom, and whether the deceased believed the child to be his. It is not uncommon for such disputes to have to be settled at trial after a lengthy discovery process. Results vary based on facts, circumstances, and legal issues involved. All cases must be properly reviewed prior to determining applicable law and likely conclusion.

If you are involved in a probate where the deceased died without a will then it is important that you contact an attorney regarding any disputes involving whether one is an heir. Determining heirs in a San Bernardino probate can be a complicated process and retaining counsel can help to ensure that your interests are fully protected. Call my office today to speak with a lawyer. I also handle matters in Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Ontario, Victorville, Rialto, Hesperia, Chino, Upland, Apple Valley, Redlands, Highland, Colton, Yucaipa, Montclair, elsewhere in the Inland Empire, as well as Los Angeles and Orange County.

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