When a person dies in San Diego, the Probate Court will determine to whom the assets of the decedent will be distributed based on the laws of “intestate” succession. “Intestate” means that the decedent died without a will or a trust. Before you decide to file a probate proceeding without a will, make sure that it is indeed the case that no will or trust can be found. It can make a difference.
Look for a will or a trust in the decedent’s home and business files, safety deposit box, or safe. Ask other family members if they recall the decedent mentioning that he or she executed a will or a trust. Find out if the decedent had a family lawyer who may have drafted an estate plan or referred the decedent to an estate planning lawyer. Often estate planning attorneys will keep the originals of clients’ estate plans in their fire proof safes. Look through the decedent’s collection of business cards to see if a lawyer is among them.
If no will or trust can be found, the steps in the probate process will be the same as for a probate with a will. The difference is in the distribution of the assets. A couple of examples will illustrate the difference:
1. Tom dies with a will or trust leaving all his property, community and separate, to his wife Karen. Tom also has a son. All of the property is distributed to Karen. If Tom dies wihout a will or trust, Karen gets all the community property but only half of the separate property. The child gets the other half.
2. Sally, a single woman with no family, dies with a will leaving half of her estate to her best friend Jan and the other half to a number of charities. If Sally had died without a will and no heirs could be found, her property goes to the State.
3. Mary dies with a trust that sets up subtrusts for her minor children and names a guardian to take care of them and a trustee to manage the trust making distributions at intervals of age 21, 30, and 35. If Mary dies with no estate plan, the Probate Court will have to appoint a guardian with no input as to who Mary would have preferred to raise her children and a guardian of the estate to manage their money until they turn 18.
These examples demonstrate that it can be important to make sure that the decedent in fact died without an estate plan. He or she may have had wishes that will not be carried out through intestate succession. Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation would be happy to assist you with creating your estate plan or probating the estate of your loved one who did not.