Next of Kin: Who Inherits if There is No Will or Trust?

So, you’ve had a loved one pass away and you’re not sure who will inherit their estate, assets, and belongings? Or, you’re curious who would inherit your stuff if you (or someone you love) died suddenly without an estate plan in place? You are not the first person to wonder about this. It’s actually such a common question that the State has a set of complicated “laws of intestate succession” in their probate code. This dictates how assets are divided amongst living relatives when someone dies without a will or trust in place.

Generally, the line of inheritance follows the decedent’s family tree. Another way to phrase this – figuring out the next inheritor is, at a minimum, as complicated as a family tree covered in bureaucratic and government red tape. The state allows special considerations for marriage, adoption, separate property assets, community property assets, beneficiary designations, and other probate instruments.

We understand this answer is probably not very satisfying, and that’s because every situation is unique. No two people have the same considerations when determining intestate succession. You can imagine that if the answer is too complicated to be a blog post, it’s about as clear as mud in reality. How you use this information is dependent on what your current situation is – are you learning about this before a loved one dies, or after?

In either instance, your best chance at muddling through this question is to talk with an attorney to figure out how the law applies to various estate aspects of your loved one’s estate. If you’re considering this information before suffering the loss of a loved one, you’re in a fortunate position to decide who will inherit. A simple estate plan, created by an Attorney, will help clear this situation up in no time. If you find yourself thinking about this because you’ve just lost a loved one, an attorney is still your best bet. If you find a specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law, they will be able to help to outline a plan of action to avoid unnecessary fees, fines, penalties, and wasted time that can accompany the probate process. Matthew Hart is a California Licensed Attorney who is an Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law Specialist certified by the State Bar of California. His office is in Antioch and he can be reached at 925-754-2000 or