What Happens to an Estate with No Heirs?

It may have crossed your mind to question what would happen in the event that someone passes away in California and there are no heirs to be found. Particularly, if the person passed away with a certain amount of assets. Although technically possible, in California intestate succession laws make it practically impossible for that to be the case, and we’ll explain more about why that is. But the short answer would be that indeed it is possible for all property to pass to the state if the decedent left no heirs, descendants, or named beneficiaries. This is called “escheat”. Having said that, it is very hard for this to happen since, in California, the court will reach wide and deep to find an heir.

It’s important to note that intestate succession laws only apply in the presence of a probate case, which in turn only exists if the decedent did not use any available mechanism or tool to avoid probate altogether or if the amount of assets for the decedent at the time of death does not exceed $166,250.00 USD. Also, California intestate succession laws apply when the decedent left no will to be followed, which would have clearly stated who gets what and when. 

Who is in Line To Get an Estate or Belongings in California?

As mentioned, the court will look hard for any person to possibly be named as an heir to the estate. That includes the obvious which would be any surviving spouse, children, cousins (of any level), and grandchildren. But will also extend to the not-so-obvious choices such as even the siblings of a spouse that passed away before the decedent’s estate in question. 

In the absence of a decedent’s will, the laws will determine which of the possible heirs gets what, and at what percentage. For example, in the case of the decedent leaving children but no spouse, they would inherit everything. But in the case of the decedent leaving a spouse and parents, then the spouse would inherit 100% of all community property (meaning property acquired during the marriage) as well as 50% of the shared property (acquired outside of marriage or by specific inheritance) leaving the decedent’s parents to inherit the other 50% of the shared property. For a more detailed list of all the possible variations of inheritances and scenarios, you can refer to California Probate Code § § 6400-6414

In talking about heirs, under California law, an heir must be alive for at least 120 hours past the decedent’s death in order to have the benefit to receive anything, or even if that person also passes away after the original 120 hours, for any assets to be transferred to that decedent’s estate. 

I Have No Heirs, Family, or Someone to Leave My Estate To, What Do I Do?

If, after a thorough search for the decedent’s next of kin, no heirs arise, the probate real estate escheats to the state, as per California probate laws. This means that all the property, whether or not in the state of California, that was under the control and care of the decedent, now passes to the state. The exception to this is probate real estate that falls under a jurisdiction outside of California’s superior court and that jurisdiction lays claims on the probate real estate. 

All intangible property also passes over to the state as long as the decedent was domiciled in the state of California at the time of death. In the event that the property escheats to the state, then the court has the same responsibility to administer the decedent’s estate and to settle all debts due from the decedent including taxes. If that means that the sale of probate real estate is required, then the court will also take the necessary steps to get it done. The big difference here is that after all liabilities have been serviced, whatever assets are left, will go into the state’s coffers.

If you are looking for a more detailed look at California’s Probate court and proceedings, it would be recommended to look at California’s legislative information under Probate Code, Division 6. But as mentioned, the likelihood of the decedent not having any heirs is highly unlikely and if you have here is more than likely because you may be interested in petitioning to be an administrator to an estate or have been named an heir to one. In either case, more than likely there is probate real estate to be handled and there is the pressing matter of choosing the right partner to be involved in the sale.

Crem Group

The CREM Group has been in the business of facilitating these delicate court-supervised probate real estate sales with a high level of integrity and dedication. With the backing of real estate brokerage knowledge and legal background, the matter of preparing a property for sale and making sure the process flows effortlessly is left in the most competent of hands. Reach out today for a free no-commitment consultation regarding your probate real estate sale. 

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