What Does the Probate Process Involve?

by | Aug 14, 2020 | estate planning

Many estates in California must pass through the probate process before the estate assets and property are transferred to the heirs or beneficiaries of the deceased person. The probate process can be a lengthy one, often lasting for a year or more. It can also become quite expensive. Understanding the probate process beforehand can help you navigate this difficult time.

California Probate Attorneys

The attorneys at Galanti & Copenhaver, Inc. have many years of experience handling probate cases in California. A skilled probate attorney can help you navigate the legal issues and procedures that come with the probate process. Give our office a call today to set up a meeting with one of our estate planning attorneys to learn more about how we can help you.

When Does an Estate Need to Go Through Probate?

In California, every estate does not necessarily need to go through probate. For example, if the estate property is held in a trust—then it is not necessary to go through the probate process. The size of the estate matters too. If the estate is small enough, there will not need to be a formal probate process.

Additionally, certain types of property and assets do not go through probate, such as a home owned in joint tenancy (the surviving homeowner will own the home in its entirety) or a life insurance policy (the money will just go to the named beneficiary of the policy), among other things.

The Beginning of the Probate Process

The probate case will be opened once a will has been filed with the court, along with a petition for probate. The court will then appoint a representative of the estate. If there was a valid will for the person who passed, then the person they named as the executor of their estate will handle these duties.

Next, there will need to be proper notice of the pending probate hearing. Anyone who was named in the will, if one exists, should receive notice of the hearing. Any legal heirs of the decedent should also be notified, along with any potential creditors. It may also be necessary to publish a notice in the local newspaper.

If the decedent did leave a will, it is required to prove the will, unless the will is considered a self-proving will. Typically, a self-proving will contains specific language along with an affidavit from each person signing the will. In this scenario, the will is already proven to be valid.

Taking Inventory and Collecting Assets

The representative of the estate will also need to take inventory of any assets or property believed to be part of the estate, and that are subject to probate. Even if an estate must go through the probate process, it does not mean that every asset of the estate is subject to the process. Some assets, like life insurance policies, will go directly to the named beneficiaries.

For some assets, like real property or motor vehicles, the title will need to be transferred to the estate. The representative has the responsibility to handle those tasks.

In California, creditors have four months to make a claim against the estate to collect a debt. If the debt is deemed valid, then the creditor will be paid from the estate funds. Debts that are valid must be paid before any distributions are made to beneficiaries.

The representative must also make sure that any estate taxes are paid. Additionally, the representative is also responsible for ensuring that the decedent’s final tax return is filed.

Concluding the Probate Process

In some cases, it can take quite a while for the probate case to conclude. In order to close the estate, the estate representative must provide the court with an accounting document stating all of the actions that they have taken in connection with the estate.

A petition must also be filed with the court, which includes a summary of the estate and all of the actions that were taken on behalf of the estate. A listing of any fees to be paid to the estate representative and estate attorney will also be included in the petition. 

If the court is satisfied with the accounting and there are not any objections, then the court will enter an order concluding the probate process and closing the estate. At this time, the estate representative can distribute the estate assets and property to the heirs and beneficiaries.

The probate process can be lengthy and complex. You can make the process easier by hiring an experienced California probate attorney for your probate case. Contact the attorneys at Galanti & Copenhaver, Inc. today at 707-538-6074 or fill out our online contact form  to schedule a consultation.