Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Question On California Probate Law

Question: My brother died three months ago and now my sister-in-law is expected to die soon from cancer. Who inherits the money. Todd, CA.
I'll make a few general statements on the issue Todd but the question lacks sufficient information to be precise. I assume your concern is whether your family will inherit a portion of your brother's estate. No will was mentioned so I'll assume your brother died intestate. Let's start with the mechanics of what his estate contains. California is a community property state. His estate contains his separate property and 1/2 of all community property. Any property jointly owned (regardless of its nature) passes outside of probate to your sister-in-law by operation of law.

Does the impending death of your sister-in-law play into this equation in any way? The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act provides that if two or more people die within 120 hours of one another, each is considered to have predeceased the other. Your sister-in-law has survived your brother for well past the 120 hour threshold, therefore, the fact that she may not have long to live does not play into the answer to your question unless your brother has a will that contains a contingency on her inheritance from his estate with a longer period. That's unlikely even if he has a will. (Note: California did not enact the most recent version of the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. California's version is not as far reaching.)

Assuming your brother died intestate, what portion of his estate goes to his widow and what portion to other heirs? That depends on whether he had children. A good summary of the California intestate succession laws can be found here.