Probate court is where you will likely find yourself (and other family members) if a loved one has recently passed away and left behind any property or assets. Hopefully, he or she addressed their wishes on how they want their estate to be distributed to their heirs (sometimes called beneficiaries) in a Last Will and Testament. If they did, then probate will be pretty quick and simple; the document only needs to be authenticated.

If a Will was not left by the decedent, then you and other loved ones will have the chance to testify about claims to assets. There are ways to avoid probate court, but if you do find yourself there, know that California’s probate system does not present as much of a burden as other states’. The following are general steps to be completed if you are involved with an estate passing through probate:

  1. File a Petition for Probate in county where the decedent lived. This petition is what formally begins the process. If a Will was made and an executor was named, he or she will usually file the petition and handle the estate in probate. The Last Will and Testament will also need to be proved. If a Will was not created, the court will need to appoint a personal representative to oversee the estate through the process. 
  2. Provide a Notice of Hearing to beneficiaries and heirs. After the petition for probate has been filed and the will validated, the personal administrator (or executor) must notify relevant parties. This includes those named in the Will, other legal heirs, and creditors to which the estate may owe money. The notice of hearing needs to be published in a local newspaper three times. 
  3. Gather the deceased’s assets and pay liabilities. The estate’s personal representative must receive a formal letter from the court authorizing him or her to take control of the estate. After this has been received, final taxes must be paid on behalf of the decedent. If the decedent was receiving Social Security benefits, then the SSA must be notified. All credit cards should be cancelled and lending institutions (banks, credit unions) should be notified, as well. After all debts are paid off, then an inventory of the deceased’s assets should be composed and sent to the court. 
  4. Transfer benefits and ask to close the estate. After all property and assets have been accounted for, then the representative will distribute inheritances to beneficiaries. The Last Will and Testament will have hopefully laid out details for this distribution, but it is possible probate hearings will take place to determine how some assets are handled. After all estate liabilities are satisfied and all probate-eligible property is handed out, then a summary of all financial actions related to the estate and a petition to close the estate will be filed in probate court. 

The typical timeline for going through probate will be 6-12 months. If your loved one took steps to make the estate transfer process go more smoothly, you hopefully won’t have too much trouble going through probate court. If there is no Will in place, the process can get quite complicated. Either way, retaining an attorney experienced in probate litigation is vital to ensuring the wishes of the decedent are carried out in a responsible way. Get in touch with us today to see how we can help you and your situation.