Case Review: Estate of Shellenbarger – How A Deadbeat Dad Can Get A Windfall Payday

If you don’t have will, then your personal belongings will be disposed of according to the relevant statute in place at the time of your death. This is called intestate succession. Lelsley Shellenbarger died at the age of 42 without a will. Lesley died in California, so his property passed according to California’s Probate Code.

pexels-photo-256621In California, intestate succession is governed in part by Section 6402 of the Probate Code. Section 6402(a)-(b) provides that if the person dying has no issue (children, grandchildren, etc.), then the property passes to the person’s parent(s). The Probate Code does not dictate how the property should be passed to the parents of if any exclusions apply.

Lesley Shellenbarger passed away without any children, and both of his parents survived him, so all of his property thereby had to pass to his parents, Lesley’s father left the family when Lesley was very long and, according to Lesley’s mother, his father did not pay any child support. Per modern colloquialism, Lesley’s father might be known as a “deadbeat dad” (see Urban Dictionary).

Despite effectively abandoning Lesley, Lesley’s father was still his natural parent and his parental rights were never terminated. Therefore, upon Lesley’s death, his father was entitled to a share of Lesley’s estate.

Estate of Shellenbarger illustrates the importance of drafting a will to avoid an undeserving person from receiving a share of your estate upon your death. A simple will that expressly disinherits a deadbeat parent or deadbeat dad could be sufficient, depending on the circumstances.

Estate of Shellenbarger is cited as 169 Cal. App. 4th 894 (2008).


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Brian Russ is an estate planning attorney in West Sacramento, Yolo County, California. Call today to schedule an estate planning consult: (916) 750-5155.

Originally published on February 10, 2018.

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