Intestate Succession The method by which property is distributed when a person dies without a valid will.
Source: Nolo Plain English Legal Dictionary
Each state’s law provides that the property be distributed to the closest surviving relatives. In most states, the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, children, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and next of kin inherit, in that order.
If there is no next of kin, then property will “escheat” or revert to the state.
Only “probate-able” assets (that would have passed through your will) are affected by intestate succession laws.
How your assets are distributed in California depends upon who your closest relatives are when you die. California Probate Code §§6400-6414 determines the order of inheritance. The following some of the more common examples are illustrated here:
Parents and siblings survive you, but you have no spouse or children — Parents receive 100% of all property
Siblings survive you, but you have no spouse or children – Siblings split equally 100% property
Spouse and parents survive you, but you have no children – Spouse receives 100% of community property and 50% of separate property and your parents receive 50% of separate property
Spouse and siblings survive you, but you have no children or parents — Spouse receives 100% of community property and ½ of separate property and your siblings split equally 50% of separate property
Spouse and one child survive you – Your spouse receives 100% of community property and 50% of separate property
Spouse and multiple children survive you – Your spouse receives 100% of community property and 1/3 of separate property AND you children split 2/3 of separate property
Children, but no spouse – Your children split 100% of all property
There are some additional factors that affect intestate inheritance as well,
Survivorship period. To inherit under California’s intestate succession statutes, a person must outlive you by 120 hours. So if you and your brother are in a car accident and he dies a few hours after you do, his estate would not receive any of your property.
Half-relatives. “Half” relatives inherit the same as if they were related by whole blood. 
Posthumous relatives. Relatives conceived before (but born after) you die inherit as if they had been born while you were alive.
Immigration status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States.
There are numerous estate planning options that can be used to change the “default” intestacy rules.
In the coming weeks, we will be reviewing many options in our Wednesday Words series. In the meantime, if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your estate plan, please contact Laura L. Thatcher, or a qualified estate planning attorney in your area.
 Community property is generally defined as all property earned by the labor of either spouse during marriage.