The California Probate Process
What is probate and how does it work in California?
Many people are unsure what the California Probate process is and it is certain to be overwhelming to most lay persons unfamiliar with probate matters. Practically speaking, the main purpose of probate is to transfer title to property belonging to the decedent, to prove a will if there is one, to collect any of the decedent assets and inventory those for the court in order to pass those assets onto the attended beneficiaries, resolve any outstanding creditor claims and to identify any heirs or people who would be entitled to a piece of the decedent's estate.
There is a substantial amount of paperwork, and fees associated with the value of the estate. Generally, the attorney for the proposed administrator of the estate files a petition, serve notice to interested persons, and obtains letters of administration for the administrator. Once letters are issued, a statuatory time period begins, creditors are noticed and a preliminary inventory is taken. The administrator manages the estate and the resolution of the probate proceeding.
After the statuatory time period, the administrator's attorney prepares a final accounting and final distribution plan if all goes well and after disputes, if any, are settled. After approving the final accounting and distribution plan, the court will declare the probate closed, but this process could take months or even years. If you have substantial property, you are well-advised to prepare a trust and will, and other estate planning documents. With an effective estate plan, your intended beneficiaries may not need court supervision and and spend a lot of money and file all of the papers to receive the estate.
Why hiring a lawyer makes sense...
Probate proceedings require someone to spend a great deal of time in court, so someone with a 9-5 job will miss a lot of work. In addition, documents need be filed and numerous probate procedures need to be followed in order to comply with probate law. Otherwise, the court will not accept the paperwork and advise the client to get help. Attorney's fees for ordinary probate work are set by statute, and you may probably exceed those costs and time spent by doing probate yourself, as well as incur a substantial amount of frustration and stress.
Estate planning, which includes wills, trusts, health care directives and probate issues, is a complicated area of the law. If you would like to speak with an experienced attorney for an initial evaluation, please contact our office.