If someone dies without a Will who inherits their belongings?
My boyfriend's dad passed away in October. There was no Will. He lived with his girlfriend for 12 years and she is refusing to let him and his siblings have anything of their father's. He had a car and he put his girlfriend's name on it. It is listed as father's name/girlfriend's name. Who is entitled to his belongings? If it is my boyfriend and his siblings, what do they need to do to get their father's things? Can they go through small claims court or do they have to go through probate? They are worried that she will destroy their father's stuff before they get any of it.
When someone dies without a Will they are said to have died "intestate". Accordingly, the deceased's state of residence will determine who the heirs will be. Typically, it is to a surviving spouse, if any, and the the children of the deceased. A girlfriend does not qualify as a legal heir. What needs to be done now is for someone (typically a family member) to apply to the Probate Court (in the county in which the deceased died) as "Personal Representative" to administer the estate. A PR is the equivalent of an executor in cases where there is a Will. The estate can then be distributed as per applicable law. Here is a site that you may find to be of help (it's for Alameda County but the law is the same for San Diego County): http://www.alameda.courts.ca.gov/Pages.aspx/Probate-a-Decedents-Estate
Note: If the estate is small enough it may qualify for distribution without the need of a formal probate. Here is a site that will explain further (it's for LA County but is generally the same statewide): http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/probate/pdf/transferform.pdf
You should also be aware that some assets can be transferred outside of probate. For example, some assets may have been held as "joint tenants with right of survivorship", in which case the other joint tenant (his girfriend, for example) would have received your boyfriend's father's share to property automatically by operation of law (the car). In addition, funds in an IRA, pension, 401(k), or other retirement plan by-pass probate and go directly to named beneficiaries. The same holds true for any life insurance proceeds.