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What Happens to a House When the Owner Dies Without a Will?
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Dying without a Will?  Learn What Happens!

When a person dies without a will, their property gets transferred according to California intestate laws. These laws prioritize inheritance for the decedent’s spouse and immediate family members before anyone else. Certain assets, including homes in joint ownership and investment accounts with a Transfer on Death provision, are probate-exempt, will or no will.


What Happens to a House When the Owner Dies without a Will

Transfer of Property After Death without a Will

Any adult member of the family can fulfill the role of an executor in the absence of a will. If the court determines that probate is necessary, they’ll choose someone from the family for this responsibility-to transfer the estate to the deceased heirs per state laws.

Generally, the state gives inheritance priority to registered domestic partners or surviving spouses. The following persons of importance on the list are usually the adult children, then other family members. Unofficial spouses, friends, and charities aren’t entitled to inherit anything after death without a will.

Usually, the deceased’s surviving spouse receives the largest share of the estate if the deceased passed without a will. If there are no surviving children, everything goes to the surviving spouse, and a small part of the estate trickles down to distant relatives. As a last resort, the state will take the assets if no relatives are found.

Still, many assets won’t need probate. 

The laws of intestacy only address assets that would have featured in a will. California allows for the distribution of many valuable assets without interference from complex intestate succession laws. These are the so-called non-probate assets, and they include: 

  • Assets held in a living trust
  •  Bank and brokerage accounts with a payable-on-death inclusion
  •  Vehicles registered with a transfer-on-death provision
  •  Jointly owned property
  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement account funds such as IRAs, 401(k)s, or similar accounts
  •  Inheritance property or property held with another as co-owners in joint tenancy or community property

My Husband Died Without a Will. What Do I Do?

A couple in California has a joint right to every asset that they acquire during their marriage. Therefore, each person in the marriage is entitled to half of this joint or community wealth. Community assets can include land, houses, cars, or others.

In marriage, separate property refers to property acquired by either couple before marriage or the subsequent divorce. Depending on the nature of the property, it may be either ‘real’ or ‘personal’ land, and buildings are part of real property. In contrast, personal property includes everything cars and similar items.

If there is death without a will, the surviving spouse inherits the entire share of community property they owned with the decedent before their death. Moreover, half of the decedent’s separate property goes to the serving spouse and the rest to the children, parents, or siblings. 

A competent probate attorney can help families determine how to transfer assets to heirs of decedents who died without leaving a will.

What Happens to a house When the Owner Dies Without a Will? 

It is essential to consider how the deceased owned the property in question and if they owned it with others. Some forms of ownership automatically transfer a property interest upon death from one owner to another. 

Transfer on death 

California adopted a new law in 2016 that allows real estate to be passed on directly to heirs under a Transfer on Death provision. To wit, the house goes directly to the intended heirs without probate – whether or not there is a will.

Provided the decedent included a transfer on death (TOD) deed to their title before their death, the home will go to the named beneficiary immediately when they die. 

Like any other type of grant, quitclaim, or deed, the TOD relinquishes the creator’s ownership rights to the property. In most cases, however, the grant deed or quitclaim deed transfers the property immediately. TODs only take effect after death. 

A TOD helps to quickly and efficiently transfer real estate to a beneficiary without a will and probate. Thus, a person whose only asset is their home may want to consider a transfer on a death deed. 

If you want to record a revocable transfer on death deed, you need to take into consideration some specific circumstances: 

  • Among the only real property types that qualify are: or condominium units, single-family homes, multiple-family dwellings of no less than four units, or single-family residences of less than 40 acres.
  • A notary public needs to sign the TOD for it to be valid and effective.
  •  Within 60 days after signing, it needs to be recorded.

It is essential to understand that the real estate only vests when the owner dies, despite the transferor’s requirement to record the transfer on death within 60 days. 

Ownership with rights of survivorship 

As long as the property title states “ownership with rights of survivorship,” no will, trust or TOD is needed-the named survivor automatically gets the house after the grantor dies. 

Provide the original title to the assessor’s office with the original death certificate and the notarized Affidavit of Death form. Then document the changes, pay the fees, and wait to receive the title deed. 

Joint ownership 

If there is death without a will and the deceased co-owned the home with another person, the property passes onto the co-owner without probate. If the deceased individual had a co-owning interest in the real estate, you should first locate the deed that transferred ownership to them. This document should describe the deceased person, as well as their co-owner rights to the property. It could be in the form of, grant, joint tenancy, quitclaim, or warranty deed. 

Living trust 

A living trust automatically eliminates the requirements of a will.  

The probate process 

The probate process for the house may be unavoidable if: 

  • It’s not a community property
  • There is no surviving spouse
  • The house was not placed in a living trust
  • There is not TOD provision in the title
  • There is no right to survivorship

Executors need to pay debts before they distribute estate assets in probate proceedings. If the estate has significant debt, the house may have to be sold to pay down those debts. 

After paying debts, the court may also order that the remaining sale proceeds be disbursed to the beneficiaries based on intestate laws.

For legal assistance when transferring property without a will, call Hess-Verdon at (949)706-7300.

What Happens To A House When The Owner Dies Without A Will?

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What Happens To A House When The Owner Dies Without A Will?

Probate Attorney Questions

Are you looking for a probate lawyer in the Orange County area? When it comes to the practice of Trust and estates, it can be difficult finding an attorney that’s experienced in 

What Happens To A House When The Owner Dies Without A Will? handling your specific issues.

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What is Probate

To understand what probate litigation is, one first has to understand what is “probate.” When a loved one dies, i.e., the decedent leaves behind their property, jewelry, bank accounts, etc., i.e., the decedent’s estate. The decedent’s estate should be transferred to family members (beneficiaries) and heirs after all taxes, debts, etc. are paid out.

Choosing the Right Probate Law firm is Paramount

When you are looking for an Orange County Probate Attorney. Hess-Verdon & Associates is one of the most reliable and most sophisticated trusts and estate law firm in the state of California at both the trial and appellate levels. 

Our probate litigation team has spent years acquiring extensive experience in trial preparation, strategy, and trial presentation to help you with your specific case.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss your needs, our qualifications, staffing approaches, and rate structures with a view toward the successful resolution of Estate, Trust, and Probate-related problems.