Whether a person has a will or not, it may be necessary for the estate to go through the probate process. If a California resident has a valid will, that person is considered to have died testate. If there is no will, a person will have been declared to die intestate. In most cases, assets will be distributed according to state law when a person dies intestate.
In such a scenario, a person is generally appointed to oversee the probate process. He or she is generally referred to as an administrator, and this person has generally the same responsibilities as an executor. That is, this person will value the estate, pay its debts and perform other tasks. State law relating to heir classes will typically determine who is entitled to assets once belonging to the intestate individual.
In most cases, children and spouses are the first in line to receive assets while distant relatives may get them if there are no surviving spouse or children. In some cases, assets such as those that have been titled with right of survivorship will pass without the need for probate. The final step in the process is for the court to approve the final accounting and distribution of assets from an estate. After that happens, a final discharge order is grant, which means that the case is closed.
If a person doesn’t have a will, there may be ways for that person to control where assets go. For instance, creating a trust may make it possible to control the property distribution process. Bank or retirement accounts may come with beneficiary designations, which means that they can transfer without probate. Assets may also be gifted or sold as a means of transferring ownership.