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  • Daniel Rodriguez

What does “dying intestate” mean?

Updated: Mar 8

When California residents pass away without a valid will, they are said to have “died intestate.” This lengthens and often complicates the process of settling an estate.

Appointing an administrator

When someone writes a will, they designate an executor. The executor's role is to manage the estate by settling debts and ensuring that heirs receive what they are entitled to under the will.

In California, a probate court judge will appoint someone to act as administrator of the estate of someone who dies intestate. The administrator's role is largely the same as that of an executor.

Succession laws

California has detailed laws that govern the inheritance of assets when there is no will. Assets are awarded on the closeness of family relationships: The law considers spouses, children, siblings, parents and grandchildren as close family who may be entitled to a share of an estate. How much each receives depends on the number of heirs and their relationship to the deceased.

The personal toll of dying intestate

While laws make it possible for administrators and probate court judges to eventually manage and settle an estate, the lack of a will lengthens the process. Every case is unique but heirs can expect the case to take anywhere from nine to 18 months.

Not having a will or comprehensive estate plan can lead to hard feelings between heirs, particularly when distributing the deceased’s personal effects, including family heirlooms. Writing a will might help ensure that family members can access needed assets, support each other and manage grief after the death of a loved one.

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