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If a relative passes away, how is the estate distributed?
An estate may have a will, or a trust, or neither. If there is a will, the estate is referred to as “Testate;” and if there is not a will, it is called “Intestate”. A trust is a trust. Under the testate rules, the will generally details how the estate assets are to be distributed. The deceased may include or exclude anyone they wish. They may have included a niece or acquaintance, and/or excluded one of the children of the deceased. In short, the will dictates the distributive provisions for the testate estate. An estate that is intestate (where there is no will), follows the rules set by the state in which the probate is filed; it usually flows down (or up, or sideways) according the family tree, but is subject to a host of rules for which legal counsel should be consulted.
In the state of California, there is a lengthy specific order to determine how the assets must be distributed when there is no will. This takes into account whether there is a surviving spouse, children, siblings, grandchildren, etc. There is a distributive intestate scheme to be followed, subject to sometimes complex rules. As an example, if there is no longer a surviving spouse, then the assets would be shared equally by surviving children and/or the children of deceased children (i.e. the decedent’s grandchildren). If there was neither a surviving spouse nor children, the assets would the go to surviving grandchildren if any, and so on. There is a somewhat complex Table of Consanguinity table that details how an intestate estate might be distributed if “heirship” is less than simple.
Of course, it is always best if the deceased has prepared a will, and therefore the assets will be distributed according to specific wishes.
We are not providing legal advice, only generally accepted information. It is always best to seek the advice of an attorney in these matters, especially when it comes to analyzing whether or not a person has any interest in a testate or intestate estate (or a trust).