A person dies without a will in California, US, and one of several children proposes to take control of real estate. Under what conditions is this legal? How can such action be challenged, if it can be? Assume that title remains in the name of the deceased person.
When a person dies intestate, California law (or the law of any other state) does not allow a presumed heir to unilaterally legally take over the estate, or part of the estate. This most likely involves a court procedure to decide who gets what. However, if all parties agree, it would be possible for one or more heirs to occupy the house without them owning it – this creates a legal mess that can be difficult and costly to untangle, so presumed-heir squatting is not a good idea. Ultimately, the property will have to go through probate in order for it to be sold to someone else.
Obviously, property taxes and other assessments must be paid, but the state does not care who writes the check. There are also liability issues, if the property damages other property (example: the underground oil tank ruptures and pollutes the neighbors' property). If one of the heirs disputes the arrangement, they can sue to force proper disposition of the estate. Creditors may also have a legal claim against the estate.
A person can petition the court (here is the form) to be appointed as the personal representative of the deceased. If someone else has "taken" the property, this petition triggers questioning as to who is entitled to a share of the estate, and the court will assure that it is distributed according to law, and if this is an adversarial process, each interested party may need to hire their own attorney (thus it is best to reach an agreement beforehand).