How Long Does Probate Take in California Without a Will?

Getting the news that the deceased passed away without a will can complicate these things even further.

Posted on October 7, 2021 by Alex Gauthier
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If someone you love dies, you may feel overwhelmed with grief and questioning what comes next. Getting the news that the deceased passed away without a will can complicate these things even further, especially when it comes to figuring out how to deal with the belongings they left behind.

Below, we've provided essential information about what to expect if a loved one dies without a will. Keep reading to learn more about how the California probate system works in this scenario.

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What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will?

When someone passes away without a will, it's called dying intestate. In California, when someone leaves behind an estate without a will, the probate court takes over the responsibilities of distributing the estate according to intestacy succession laws.

Here is an overview of how inheritance typically works without a will:

  • Spouse and children. If there is a surviving spouse and no children, the surviving spouse receives the entire estate. If there are surviving children, the spouse inherits up to 50% of the estate, while the children receive an equal share in the remaining estate.
  • No spouse or children. If someone dies without a will and doesn't have a surviving spouse or children, the parents of the deceased will inherit the estate after probate.
  • Siblings. When someone dies in California without leaving a will and has no surviving parents, spouse, or children, then their siblings will inherit the estate

If someone dies with no close living relatives, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles will then be considered to have a right to the estate. If absolutely no relative can be found, then will "escheat" into the state's coffers, meaning the estate goes to the state.

While it usually takes about 12 to 18 months to go through probate in California, that process may be quicker when there’s no will because the chain of inheritance is simplified and an estate’s assets are dealt with in the simplest way possible.

However, if there are issues with the estate—including outstanding debt that can’t be paid—, then the process can take a bit longer.

How Do I Go Through California Probate With no Will?

Usually, an estate executor will apply for probate by submitting the will to California’s probate court along with a petition. However, in the case of a missing will, a representative of the deceased known as the administrator must apply for probate.

Once the court approves the application, the estate will be distributed according to California’s intestate succession laws. The court will most likely also appoint an executor—usually the closest relative or spouse—to handle the estate’s outstanding debt, notifying descendants, and more.