When a person dies owning property in his own name and has no Will, the property left behind must pass through probate before it can be transferred to the legal beneficiaries of the estate. Probate is opened and managed by an estate administrator, and the law sets out the priority of who has the right to act as administrator.
It all starts with the decedent’s spouse. He or she has the first right to act as administrator. Then it moves on to children, and then grandchildren. If that does not work, it goes to the parents of the decedent, then brothers and sisters of the decedent, and then the children and grandchildren of the brothers and sisters.
At some point, a family member is found who has the right to act as administrator. Just because they have the right, does not mean they have the desire to act. In that event, the search continues. If no family member can be found and convinced to act, then every county in California has a public guardian who will act as the administrator of last resort.
Of course, all of this can be avoided by simply creating a Will that names an executor. Anyone named in a Will has priority to act and can take charge of the estate. And a Will can name a list of people to act just in case the first one cannot do so.
It is always better to plan your future with Wills and Trusts. But if you fail to do so, the Court will make your choice for you. And it may be a surprising choice.