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What you may need to know about inheriting property in California

Whether you inherit property from a deceased loved one depends on a variety of factors. This article will attempt to provide you with some highlights about inheritances here in California.

The first thing you should know is that the state does not charge inheritance or estate taxes. This means that whatever you receive from the estate will not create a taxable event. However, if the estate owes any state or federal income taxes, those will need payment before any distributions come out of the estate.

If your loved one failed to leave a will

No one likes to think about his or her own demise, so that means that a lot of people fail to create a will or the will they did create does not meet with the state's requirements for validity. If that person dies without a will, state laws determine where his or her property goes after death. Depending on your familial relationship with the decedent, you may receive an inheritance -- or not.

If your loved one left a valid will

If a will exists, and it meets the state's validity requirements, then that document dictates where the estate's assets go. The will names an executor and provides him or her with instructions regarding how to distribute the property remaining in the estate after the executor completes all other tasks associated with the probate. Your loved one could make specific bequests to you or instruct the executor to give you a certain portion of the estate.

An executor does not always have to file a probate. If the estate's assets are below a certain amount, the executor may distribute assets after the expiration of 40 days from the date of death. The executor will still file paperwork with the court but will not file it as a full probate.

If a spouse survived your loved one

California law makes sure that the surviving spouse of one of its residents is not left penniless or homeless. Depending on how many heirs of your loved one survive him or her, the spouse receives a certain portion of the estate regardless of what the will may say. In some instances, it will be half of all community property and quasi-community property of a couple legally married at the time of death.

He or she may also receive a portion of any separate property your loved one owned at death. These percentages vary depending on the number of children who survived your loved one. However, it does not fall below one-third.

The laws follow a strict progression depending on the situation. If you have questions regarding whether you will receive an inheritance, you may benefit greatly from discussing the matter with a probate attorney.

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