California’s Probate Code recognizes surviving spouses as rightful heirs of a deceased’s estate. The California Legislative Information website notes that the probate court may verify the end of a marriage by a divorce decree.
Although a legal separation could have taken place, the separation document may not generally confirm that a couple divorced. When a spouse dies before the divorce proceedings end, California’s probate court may act based on the contents of an existing will.
Who may inherit my property?
As noted by the Judicial Council of California, the executor named in your will introduces it to the probate court after you die. Your executor gathers your assets and pays your debts. The probate court may review your will and verify your assets’ titles before transferring them to your named beneficiaries.
If you and your spouse own property together, your death may result in your spouse taking ownership. As described by Bankrate.com, surviving spouses generally become sole owners of properties that name couples as “joint tenants with survivorship.”
Who may inherit my assets if I die without a will?
If a spouse dies without a will, the probate court may distribute property under California’s intestate succession laws. SmartAsset.com explains how surviving spouses may inherit all assets acquired during marriage. This type of property distribution could occur when a California couple is childless and the deceased does not have a surviving parent or sibling.
With a surviving child, parent or sibling, however, a surviving spouse must divide half of the deceased’s separate property when no will exists. Separate property includes gifts or inheritances received during a marriage. It also includes assets obtained before the wedding date.
Divorce may require careful planning when facing an illness or a life-threatening injury. To avoid property distribution under California’s intestate succession statutes, you may create or revise an estate plan to fulfill your wishes.