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When a California resident dies without a will, the process of settling their estate can get complicated. However, it is possible that the individual actually had a will and neglected to tell anyone about it. Even if an estate owner never mentioned a will, there could still be one saved on a computer or located in a filing cabinet.

A will could also be in a safe deposit box, and those who are named as a signatory to the box can gain access to it. It’s important to note that just because there is no will doesn’t necessarily mean that beneficiaries won’t get their inheritance. This is because assets could be transferred through a beneficiary designation or given directly to a joint owner. To determine if probate is needed, a potential beneficiary should gather and look through the estate owner’s financial and other personal records.

If probate is needed, a potential beneficiary could petition to be the estate’s personal representative. Assuming that no will was created, assets will be distributed in accordance with state law. Individuals should know that a will can be valid regardless of its age, so it’s always worth showing estate planning documents to an attorney.

An attorney may be beneficial to anyone who has questions about how to settle an estate. If an estate owner had a will, an attorney may review it to determine its validity. Assuming that the will is valid, its instructions will generally be followed. If it isn’t valid, legal counsel may help an executor take steps to settle an estate in a manner that respects the wishes of the deceased as closely as possible.