Probate is the process of verifying a will in court and accepting this will as the last testament of a person who has passed away. Undergoing the probate process and proving the validity of a will is the first step in distributing the assets and estate of a person. In California, the probate process can vary depending on the will or estate plan, and going to probate court may or may not be required. Here we take a look at the probate process in California, and what you may need to do when submitting a will for probate.
Executor is Appointed
The first step is appointing the executor of the will. This person may be named in the will, otherwise, the court will appoint an executor who may be the surviving spouse or adult child of the deceased. The executor is responsible for gathering the estate assets and distributing them according to the will, while also paying any debts, bills, or taxes. The will must be filed in the county where the deceased lived.
Filing the Petition
After the executor is appointed, a petition for probate must also be filed with the California Superior Court in the county where the deceased lived. After this is done, the court will automatically schedule a hearing within 30 days.
Notifying Creditors and Heirs
After the petition is filed, a notice of hearing will need to be published at least three separate times in the local newspaper in the area which the deceased lived. This helps to inform potential creditors who may have interests in the proceeding. Notices should be mailed to all potential creditors who are known, along with anyone who is named in the will and any other potential heirs.
Paying Creditors and Taxes
Those with valid claims to debts must file an official claim for these, and if determined valid, these debts will be paid from the estate. This includes bills, taxes, and funeral expenses. In California, creditors must submit claims within four months of the executor appointment.
The executor must also pay Federal and California estate taxes. Taxes must be paid before the estate is distributed, or personal liability could fall to the executor. While it is best to be proactive and plan to reduce estate taxes with an inheritance attorney before a person dies, working with an experienced estate attorney afterward can help you manage asset distribution and tax payment more efficiently.
Closing The Estate
In closing the estate, the executor should give a full account to the court of all actions taken in regard to the proceeding. A petition can then be filed with the court to close the estate. If there are no objections, the Court will issue an order to distribute assets to beneficiaries and heirs.
Navigating The Probate Process
The probate process in California can be complex, particularly when managing a large or diverse estate. An estate attorney is experienced and qualified in ensuring you get the best result from the probate process, navigating the proceedings with ease.
Is Court Really Necessary?
In cases where the combined value of assets is below a certain threshold or where assets are excluded from probate, going to court may not be necessary. In such cases, a beneficiary can use a simple affidavit to claim assets. California’s small estate limit can allow you to settle an estate without probate. This may also apply to assets that are included from probate which include joint tenancy assets, retirement plans, payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts, real estate transferred by a transfer-on-death deed, or transfer-on-death brokerage accounts. You should consult with an expert estate-planning attorney if you think you may qualify for California’s small estate limit.
If you need to go through probate court, the court will issue ‘Letters Testamentary’ which allow the executor to take possession of all the assets that are subject to probate. A list of all assets will be compiled and filed with the court.
The California probate process is an essential part of inheriting the assets of someone who has passed away. The experienced probate attorneys at Lewman Law can help you navigate this complex process with ease and assurance that everything will be handled properly; contact us for help today.