Inheritance refers to the way the law disposes of a dead individual's property when that individual left no directions regarding the property. In California, the state laws governing inheritance are set down in the California Probate Code. Although siblings are typically in line to inherit the property, several other classes of relations stand in line before siblings. Those with questions about a specific estate or inheritance should consult an attorney or probate court.
In legal terms, the individual who has died and left property at issue is known as the decedent. When the decedent left no will, trust or other document detailing what he wanted done with his property, he has died intestate. In such cases, people with certain relationships to the decedent may have the right to inherit his property. Those with this right are known as heirs. Note that a decedent may also leave a will or other document which only details what he wants done with part of his property; the remaining property, not covered by the will, is termed intestate property.
Surviving Spouse's Share
California is a community property state, meaning that half of all property earned by both spouses during a marriage (the community property) will belong to each spouse when the marriage ends. Under California Probate Code 6401, when one spouse dies, the law awards the surviving spouse a statutory share of the community property equal to one-half of the deceased spouse's share. Therefore, before anyone can inherit the property, the surviving spouse of the intestate decedent will receive her half share of the community property, plus one-half of the decedent's half share. The remainder of the community property, plus any separate property owned solely by the decedent, may then be inherited. These proportions may change if the decedent left children for whom he did not provide in a will.
Each state ranks those parties related to an intestate decedent in a certain order, the order of intestate succession. When a decedent dies intestate and multiple parties come forward claiming to be valid heirs, the law will go through the order of intestate succession, and the valid heir who comes first in line will have the right to inherit all of the decedent's intestate property.
California Intestate Succession
California's order of intestate succession is detailed in California Probate Code Section 6402. It stipulates that a decedent's descendants (her children and their children) come first in line. Next come the decedent's parents, then come siblings. Section 6402 defines siblings as the children of both of the decedent's parents, or either of them. The law divides the property equally among siblings; however, if some of the siblings are already dead, then under Section 240, those siblings' offspring will receive the sibling's share.