July 21, 2011

Intestate Heir in California

Certain words used in everyday language have a specific legal meaning to them. That is, the word denotes a certain situation or a specific person. The word should not be used interchangeably with other words. For instance, I frequently hear the term "negligence" used in daily conversations. The term "negligence" has a very specific meaning to it. I will spare you the boring legal definition (I had to memorize it for the CA Bar Exam) but just know the word has a specific meaning to it.

In probate law, there are an assortment of terms that have a specific meaning. The beginning part of the California probate code is entirely devoted to defining various terms. For purposes of this post, I will focus on the word "heir."

California law defines an heir as “any person, including the surviving spouse, who is entitled to take property of the decedent by intestate succession under this code.” Prob C § 44. This translates to the decedent’s next of kin who would inherit the decedent’s estate if they did not write a will, trust, have a joint tenancy arrangement or designate beneficiaries on various accounts. For example, I have an uncle who is single and does not have any children nor any predeceased children with issue. Both his parents and grandparents are deceased, and his sole sibling is deceased. My sister and I, as his niece and nephew, would be considered his heirs under California’s intestate succession laws. Prob C § 6402.