Is It Ever Worth it? - Not Really
Intestacy comes into play in two main situations.
1.) When someone fails to make a will
2.) When an estate plan is shown to be invalid
Intestacy is a bad plan in almost every case. It can't be emphasized enough that this give you ZERO control over how your estate is distributed. It is fairly common to promise to give particular items away when they die. Whether these are a family heirlooms or high value items, these promises have NO VALUE if you die without an estate plan. The court can choose to give some weight to such promises during the probate process but there is no guarantee that this will happen, and the court has no obligation to take such promises into account. This lack of control can create serious problems with family harmony at a time when everyone is already dealing with the passing of a loved one.
That being said is Intestacy ever a good idea?
Sure, there may be a few situations where it can make sense. It is possible that family dynamics may make it easier to say Fine, I'm not going to make an estate plan!" In the case where someone is going to be criticized no matter what they do, making no plan may actually make things easier even after you factor in the problems that intestacy creates. Another situation where it may make sense is if there is a limited number of heirs and a small estate. If you don't have much to give away and don't have many people to give it to then intestacy may do the job for you (assuming you like the default way assets are distributed). However a simple will would likely achieve the same result, and the added control likely would usually make it a better decision.
How is property distributed?
This gets dense quickly, however all property will pass to relatives. Without a will or some estate plan it is almost impossible to give assets to a friend or someone who is not related to you. For a complete answers to how this works you are free click here for: The California Probate Code Sec 6400-6455. However most of the time people are thinking about two categories of people: their spouse and their children. In general if you have a surviving spouse they inherit all community property (property you have earned through your labor during your marriage) this includes any land held in that manner as well as any real property held as joint tenants with a right of survivorship. (You can look on your deed to see how title is held) Any remaining property, or all the property if there is no community property will be given 50-50 to your spouse and surviving child. If you have more than one child then 2/3 of your estate will go to your children in even portions and the remaining 1/3 will go to your spouse. If you have no spouse then your estate will go in equal portions to your children. The Probate Code has more contingencies but this deals with most of what people are commonly concerned about.
In almost all situations a will is a better options than nothing at all. It is relatively simple to set one up, and most importantly it allows you to ensure that property is given in a way that best respects the people you care about. A court cannot be expected to take the same kind of care.