How Does the Probate Process Work in California?
Probate is the legal process of handling a loved one's estate and assets after they pass away. While this process is essentially the same across America, each state has its own unique set of rules and regulations.
How to Probate a Will in California
Because probate is usually required in the state of California, it’s important to have a general understanding of how the probate process works and which steps you need to take to put your loved one’s affairs in order.
#1. Seek help from a trusted probate attorney.
First, it’s always wise to seek reliable legal counsel from a skilled probate attorney. While it is possible to navigate probate without an attorney present, the process can prove to be quite grueling without legal guidance, as probate and estate planning is a particularly complex area of the law.
There are many benefits to hiring an experienced lawyer to assist you with the probate process, such as:
- They will be an excellent resource. Your attorney will be your go-to person when questions and concerns inevitably arise.
- They will save you time. Your attorney can help by distributing assets as efficiently and effectively as possible.
- They can reduce stress by functioning as a neutral third-party professional. As you can imagine, this is especially helpful in families where emotions run high or conflict is unavoidable.
- They can save you money. Hiring a probate attorney is often more helpful than harmful to your bank account. They’re there to help you avoid costly mistakes, avoid extra fees, and help keep the family on track to avoid wasting time.
- They can assure assets are distributed correctly the first time. Again, ensuring that tasks are completed effectively and efficiently will prevent you and your family from encountering costly mistakes or having to backtrack later on.
#2. File the petition.
First, the executor named in the will must start the probate process. The executor is the person who assumes responsibility for an estate and its administration.
If no executor is named due to the absence of a will, then a family member or close friend may nominate themselves and request that the court appoint them as a personal representative (or "administrator”) of the deceased person’s estate. This role must be filled for the probate process to begin. The executor or administrator can expect their role in the process to last anywhere from 6 months to 1 year after the process is started.
The executor must file the will (if one exists) in addition to filing the Petition to Probate document. In California, you can expect to pay an approximate fee of $435 to initiate the probate process (although the exact price can vary from county to county). It’s crucial to consult with a trusted probate attorney to ensure that any additional paperwork is filled out appropriately and on time.
#3. Distribute notices.
After filing the Petition to Probate, formal notices must be sent out to beneficiaries, relevant family members, and creditors. Additionally, the notice will be published at least 3 times in the local newspaper to notify relevant parties.
Following the distribution of notices, the will (if one exists) must be proven to be valid. Following this step, the court will typically issue a Letter of Administration that formally appoints the executor or administrator, officially granting that representative authority over the estate and its assets.
#4. Collect assets.
After the executor or administrator is granted official authority by the court, it’s time to begin the collection of assets. Your attorney can assist you with staying organized during this process and ensure that tasks are done correctly, such as:
- Setting up a filing system
- Making sure bills aren’t overlooked
- Applying for a taxpayer ID number
- Opening a bank account for the estate
- Filing tax returns for the deceased person and their estate
- Keeping assets safe
- Ensuring the house is insured and maintained
- Safeguarding heirlooms
- Preventing theft and damage
From there, the executor or administrator will be required to compile an inventory of the probate property and file it with the court.
#5. Make payments to creditors.
The executor is responsible for reviewing and settling all creditor claims after creditors have been notified. Valid claims will be paid from the estate. All debts must be paid before asset distribution can be fulfilled, including bills, funeral costs, and any other relevant fees.
#6. Make sure estate taxes are paid.
The executor is also responsible for paying estate taxes on behalf of the deceased (federal and state) imposed by the state of California. The personal representative is unlikely to be held personally liable for these estate taxes unless they distribute assets prior to paying them, in which case they are responsible. For this reason, it’s essential to reconcile state and federal taxes before estate assets are distributed.
#7. File the final petition with the court.
To close the estate, the executor or administrator must file a petition summarizing the estate and the actions taken. This will include any fees to be paid to the representative and the family’s chosen probate attorney. Assuming the court approves the petition, a formal court order will be entered to approve the estate.
Here to Help Ease the Transition During Hard Times
Our hardworking team at the Law Offices of Kent W. Keating has served our clients in the Thousand Oaks area since 1986. For decades, we've been committed to providing exceptional legal representation at a reasonable cost.
Our skilled probate attorney understands just how stressful and emotionally draining the probate process can be, especially after suffering the death of a loved one. That’s why our firm is devoted to easing the transition during life’s toughest moments. When it comes to navigating wills, trusts, and estate planning, rest assured you’re in good hands with Attorney Kent W. Keating.
Feeling overwhelmed by the probate process after the death of a loved one? Our firm is here to help ease the transition. Call (805) 225-9058 to schedule your free consultation.