Almost half of adults in the country now are single. Many are divorced, some never married and others widowed. As society changes, so do living arrangements. According to Bloomberg, the number of adults who live alone hasn't changed much since 1990 - but a shift is coming soon.
One recent study projects that it will be a very different picture by 2060. Specifically, it predicts that non-Hispanic whites without close kin will double, and non-Hispanic blacks in the same situation will triple in that time. A lack of reliable data limits the predictions to these two groups.
Creating your own family
When adults live alone and don't have close relatives, it doesn't reflect on happiness or life satisfaction in any way. Many single adults are more socially active and have closer friendships. Many people "create their own families" of peers. These bonds are important, but it's still different than a family relationship.
On the whole, friend relationships are more fragile than family, according to sociologists quoted in the Bloomberg article. Many friendships dissolve over disagreements or the passing of time, where family bonds maintain a more permanent connection. Whether true or not, the fact remains that the law doesn't recognize a peer in the same way it sees a family member.
In the eyes of the law
There is no legal recognition of a non-relative without taking steps to create it yourself. While personal friendships can be equally valuable--even more so--California probate defines relationship by actual relation. If someone dies without a will, probate will determine who gets what based on lineage. By state law, the spouse and children come first, followed by a path of lineage drawn by the government. For those without children or a spouse, a younger nephew or first cousin you don't speak with could be your closest heir, whether you speak with them or not.
Your estate, your way
Many people today are living happy, single lives with a minimal or no family, and this population is growing. The law isn't written to protect those without next of kin. When you die without a will, the state determines where your assets will go. By establishing an estate plan, you can make sure that probate recognizes your life, instead of applying a by-the-book solution. A will or trust can distribute your assets and make sure your assets go to those who mean the most.