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What are California’s inheritance laws?

On Behalf of | Jun 27, 2023 | Estate Administration & Probate

California doesn’t charge an inheritance or estate tax, but it has laws surrounding inheritance. You may also need to pay federal estate tax if the estate’s value was large enough.


Executors need to open a probate case with the court when the estate is worth over $184,500. Life insurance, retirement benefits, personal property and real property make up the value of an estate.

Will validity

When a testator dies without a valid will, California follows its intestate succession laws to divide their property. For a will to be valid, the testator must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind when they signed it. Wills must be in writing, including typed and printed documents.

If you were to cross out a term or make other changes after you signed it, you need to sign and date the changes with witnesses present, add a codicil or create a new will. Writing the date when you sign the will is also necessary. At least two witnesses must be present during the signing and provide their signatures to confirm the will is valid. You may find that codicils are better than hand-written revisions because they keep your wishes clear and easy to understand. A court might declare the will invalid if there is a lack of clarity.

Intestate succession

A surviving spouse gets their share of community property, even if the decedent has children. The children would receive two-thirds of the decedent’s separate property while the remaining third goes to the spouse. If the decedent doesn’t have children, parents or siblings, then the surviving spouse receives their entire estate. When there isn’t a spouse, California divides the estate evenly among the children.

Understanding California’s inheritance laws helps you draft an estate plan that reflects your wishes. You must follow the correct procedures to ensure its validity.


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