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Who Gets What in a Wrongful Death Case Where There’s No Will?

Losing a loved one because of a wrongful death can happen at the least expected times. Wrongful death can be caused by an accident or situation that could have been prevented had the proper measures been taken. Since wrongful death is a form of unexpected death, it is likely that the person who lost their life did not anticipate dying so soon and did not leave a will that discloses how they wish their property and belongings were to be distributed. 

What happens when a person dies in a wrongful death case and has no will? Below, our experienced team of Los Angeles wrongful death attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers will break down who gets what in a wrongful death case when there is no will. 

If you have lost a loved one due to a wrongful death caused by a negligent party and are seeking legal representation, we are available 24/7 to assist you with your case. With our track record of recovering over $1 billion in settlements for our clients, we are confident that we will deliver a good outcome to your case.

To schedule a free consultation at our Los Angeles personal injury law firm, please contact our 24/7 legal team by calling 213-927-3700 or filling out our quick contact form.

Beneficiaries and Shared Assets

There are certain assets that get distributed accordingly whether there was a will left or not. In the situation of these assets, there is usually a contract or prearranged agreement involved that determines the ownership of these assets. In most cases, the below-mentioned assets will go to listed beneficiaries or the shared owners of the assets. Here are the following assets that are already predetermined of who gets what when a person becomes deceased, whether they left a will or not: 

  • Life insurance proceeds are granted to the beneficiaries listed on a life insurance policy of the policyholder who lost their life. Anyone can be listed as a beneficiary, but it is most common that spouse, children, and close family members are listed primarily. 
  • Real estate, bank accounts, or other assets held in joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, or community property with a right of survivorship. This means that whoever is the joint owner of a property, bank account, or other asset will obtain full ownership of the asset with the passing of the deceased. A person who is granted the right of survivorship of the asset will be the person who obtains ownership.
  • Property held in a living trust is granted to the beneficiaries of that trust. The beneficiaries can be modified during the lifetime of the individual, but once they die, no other accommodations can be made. 
  • Funds in an individual retirement account (IRA), 401(k), or retirement plan will be allotted to the beneficiary or beneficiaries specifically named. 
  • Funds in a payable-on-death (POD) bank account go to the assigned beneficiary on the bank account. 
  • Stocks or other securities held in a transfer-on-death (TOD) account will be allotted to the beneficiary or beneficiaries listed. 

Community Property vs Separate Property 

There exist two different classifications of property that will be considered when distributing property of the deceased who has left no will: community property and separate property. 

Community property refers to the property that is jointly owned by spouses or domestic partners legally bound by their marriage. Community property must be acquired during the course of the marriage. Some examples of community property include the following: 

  • Income earned by either spouse during the marriage, especially if they shared a bank account
  • House(s) and furnishing
  • Electronics, including computers
  • Personal belongings
  • Kitchenware and cooking supplies
  • Art and decorations 
  • Tools and yard supplies 
  • Vehicles purchased during the marriage

Separate property refers to other belongings that were acquired by one spouse before they married the other or that was specified for solely the one spouse and not the other. This can include belongings that the other inherited, was gifted, or kept separate throughout the marriage. The following are examples of shared property: 

  • Property inherited by only one spouse and not the other
  • Funds in a bank account held in the name of only one spouse
  • Compensation received from a personal injury lawsuit
  • Property gifted to only one spouse and not the other, including property that was gifted to them during the course of the marriage
  • Any property specifically listed in writing as belonging to solely one spouse
  • Property purchased with assets kept separate throughout the marriage

How Assets Are Divided Based on Survivors of the Deceased

Intestate succession laws help determine who gets what property when a person dies without a will. When there is no will to state exactly who gets what property, community property and separate property become divided according to the survivors of the deceased. These survivors may include spouses, children, parents, or descendants. If the deceased is survived by no one, the state then acquires the property. The following graph exhibits the intestate succession rules for the state of California:

Survived by 


Survived by Spouse and Children 

Spouse: One-half of the deceased’s community property and one-half or one-third of their separate property

Children: One-half of the deceased’s community property and one-half or two-thirds of their separate property 

The remaining property that is not granted to the spouse is given to the children.

Survived by Spouse 

(No Descendants, Parents, or Siblings)

The surviving spouse inherits all of the deceased spouse’s property (including community, quasi-community, and separate property).

Survived by Spouse and Parent(s) 

(No Descendants)

Spouse: Inherits all of the deceased spouse’s property and one-half of their separate property. 

Parent(s): Inherits one-half of the deceased’s separate property.

Survived by a Spouse and Sibling(s)

 (No Parents of Descendants)

Spouse: Inherits all of the deceased spouse’s community property and one-half of the deceased’s separate property.

Sibling(s): Inherits one-half of the deceased’s separate property.

Need a Wrongful Death Attorney? West Coast Trial Lawyers Can Help

If you have lost a loved one due to negligent actions committed by another party, our expert team of wrongful death attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers will help you recover compensation for damages you have suffered. This includes medical expenses, lost wages, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and more. 

Contact us today by calling 213-927-3700 or filling out our contact form to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our knowledgeable, caring, and compassionate legal team.  

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