How do I claim my child's assets if there is no will?

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Question:

My daughter died unexpectedly without leaving a will. She was unmarried and had no children. I, her mother, am next of kin. She had a 401(k) plan (but did not name a beneficiary) as well as money in mutual funds and an IRA. How do I get these funds? I live in California, as did my daughter.

Answer:

The property your daughter owned when she died is called her "estate." Under California law, in your situation, parents inherit everything. To claim the assets, you may need to conduct a probate court proceeding. However, if the estate's value is under $100,000, you can instead use simplified transfer procedures allowed by California law. Most likely, you will not need a lawyer to do this. For help with the details, you might want to consult Nolo's book, How to Probate an Estate in California, by Julia Nissley.

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