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An Heir is An Heir

When you die without a will or a trust, you are said to have died “intestate.” The Court in the probate proceeding ,which will have to occur when someone dies”intestate,'” will determine who receives your estate based on California law. So if, for example, you are single with no children, your parents are your heirs and your estate will be divided between your mother and father.

But what about a situation where a father abandons his child at birth, has had no contact with his child, never paid child support, i.e. not really much of a father. Should that type of father inherit his son’s estate when the son dies? You are probably hoping the answer is “no”. Unfortunately the answer is that the father will inherit from the son, no matter what kind of a father he has been.

In a California case called Estate of Shellenbarger, decided by the Second District Court of Appeal in 2008, there were similar facts. The son died intestate (without a will or trust). Since the son was unmarried with no children, his parents are his heirs under California law. The administrator appointed by the Court tried to argue that the father should not receive any inheritance based on fairness, because he had left the mother prior to his son’s birth and never made any child support payments. The Court ruled that intestate succession is purely based on statute and a Court cannot disinherit an heir even on equitable grounds.

A similar result would occur if a father died intestate with no wife and 2 sons, one of which he had no contact with after the son left home at 17. The other son took his father into his own home and cared for him before his death. The two sons would inherit equally even though it may have been the case that the father would not have wanted his wayward son to inherit anything.

What this illustrates is that if someone dies without a will or a trust, the heirs are set by law. The statute which is set out in California Probate Code Section 6402 doesn’t take into consideration whether that heir had a relationship with the decedent or any other factors. A “bad” heir is still an “heir”.

If you think you might have a situation similar to the above examples, it is so important to get a will or a trust. Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation can help you with the process of
naming the specific beneficiaries who will share in your estate upon your death so that your assets will be left only to someone you would have wanted to receive them.

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