Probate law governs the probate process and what happens from the time a person dies until the estate is settled. Getting help with estate law, including probate cases, means working with an experienced attorney who can answer your questions and provide legal counsel about your options. At MMZ Law, our team includes probate lawyers who have helped dozens of clients in Claremont and the surrounding area.
What Happens During the Probate Process?
The first step of probate is the filing of the will. This is also when an executor of the estate is appointed, if there is one noted in the will. If there is no executor named, the courts will appoint someone to handle the administration of the estate. This is also a good time to consult with a probate attorney to make sure that you understand the process and can deal with any potential issues, such as more than one will.
The next step is to notify both the beneficiaries and creditors associated with the estate that the person has died. All of the estate’s assets will need to be accounted for and appraised to get a full value of the estate. Before the beneficiaries can receive any inheritances through the will, all of the debts and estate taxes must be paid. After the remaining assets have been distributed to the beneficiaries, the executor files the final paperwork with the probate court, and the estate is closed.
Do All Estates Have to Go Through Probate in California?
Under California probate law, there are two options for estates: formal probate and the simple transfer process. The simple transfer process is a simplified version of the probate process that allows for faster estate settlement. To qualify for this simplified version, the estate assets must be worth less than $166,250. If it is worth more than that, the estate must go through the full probate process.
If you believe that your loved one’s estate qualifies for this simplified process, talk to a probate attorney about your options and what you need to file. This method allows for individual assets to be easily transferred to the beneficiaries through small estate affidavits, but it must be done correctly to be in line with the probate laws.
What Does the Executor of the Estate Do?
The executor of the estate is in charge of taking care of all of the financial obligations of the estate and ensuring that the estate assets are distributed accordingly. They are responsible for:
- Inventorying the estate assets
- Having the estate appraised
- Paying off any creditors
- Paying the estate taxes
- Selling property as necessary to settle the estate
- Closing accounts and providing financial institutions with copies of the death certificate
- Dealing with any conflicts between beneficiaries about the estate
- Distributing assets to the beneficiaries
The executor of the estate carries a great deal of responsibility when it comes to administration. If the person doesn’t have a strong legal and financial background, it can be helpful to work with a probate attorney throughout the process.
What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will?
Creating a will is an important part of estate planning, but many people die without one. When this happens, it is referred to as “dying intestate.” Because there is no will to name an executor or provide instruction about what should happen to the person’s assets, the process is a bit different from normal probate. An administrator of the estate must be appointed by the probate court. Anyone who wishes to be administrator can file a petition to start the legal process, and a probate attorney can help with this.
Once the administrator has been named, the estate is inventoried, appraised, and settled during the probate process. This includes paying the estate taxes and any outstanding debts. When it’s time to distribute any remaining assets to the beneficiaries, California’s intestate succession laws apply. In general, the estate passes to the next of kin, which is often either a surviving spouse or adult children. If a person dies without a spouse or children, the estate passes to either the person’s parents or siblings. In some cases, such as if the person leaves behind a spouse and adult children, the estate is split between multiple beneficiaries.
What Are Some Examples of Probate Litigation a Probate Attorney Can Help With?
While the normal probate process may be lengthy, it usually happens without issue. However, there are situations that can arise that result in disputes or challenges regarding the estate. Probate litigation is when probate attorneys represent those involved, such as beneficiaries, to resolve probate matters and disputes. Examples of situations that may result in probate litigation include:
- Challenges to the will’s validity
- Disputes involving trusts
- Accusations of breach of fiduciary duty, such as failure to pay estate and income taxes
- Theft of assets
When you work with a probate attorney, they act as your personal representative to advocate for your rights and ensure that everyone is following the law when it comes to handling and settling the estate. It can be helpful to start working with an experienced probate attorney from the very beginning instead of waiting until an issue arises. This ensures the attorney is already familiar with the case and can immediately jump in with filings or other necessary action.
If you’re dealing with a probate case in Los Angeles County, the attorneys at MMZ Law can help. We understand how difficult it can be to deal with legal matters in a time of grieving, and we work to ensure that our clients have support throughout the entire process. Call our office at 909-347-7444 to find out more.