How to Probate an Estate in California
Being named in a loved one’s will or appointed by the court as executor of an estate is an honor. But it also comes with weighty responsibilities. You are entrusted to represent the estate to the courts, heirs, and beneficiaries. And in doing so, you have committed yourself to gathering the estate’s assets and distributing them in accordance with California law. Below, we discuss how to probate an estate in California.
How Does Probate Work?
When a loved one dies, their assets make up an estate, which are distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. Probate is the formal process for this distribution. The process is supervised by the courts with each step undertaken by an executor (also called a personal representative).
The executor is nominated in the decedent’s will or appointed by the court if there is no will. They are given legal authority to manage the probate process for the decedent’s estate.
7 Steps of the Probate Process in California
The California probate process generally requires executor to follow these steps in settling an estate:
Hire a Probate Attorney
If you’ve been named executor of an estate, an experienced probate lawyer can prove invaluable to you. They can help you through the entire process, as well as make sure that you comply with all legal requirements and timelines.
File a Petition
The process starts by filing a petition with the California Superior Court in the county where your loved one passed. The court will schedule a hearing within 30 days. It will also officially name you the executor of the estate.
Send and Publish Notices
As executor, you must publish notice of the court hearing in a local newspaper a minimum of three times. You must also mail a notice to all the heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased, as well as creditors.
Inventory and Appraise Assets
You must inventory and appraise all the of the estate assets that are subject to probate. The only assets required to go through the probate process are those that are owned in the decedent’s name alone. Probate is not necessary, however, for the following:
- Small Estates: Assets valued below a certain amount set by state law.
- Assets Owned in Joint Tenancy or Tenancy by the Entirety: Assets such as real estate are often held in joint tenancy by more than one person. When one passes, the other person takes ownership of all the asset without court involvement. Assets held in tenancy by the entirety are similar to those held in joint tenancy, except they are owned by married couples.
- Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance: Account and policy holders can avoid probate by naming beneficiaries for the funds.
- Living Trusts: Assets can be held in a living trust while the trustee is still alive.
Once they’ve been notified, creditors must submit a claim if the estate owes any debts. California law requires creditors to submit claims within four months of your appointment as executor. Valid claims will need to be paid by the estate before distributions to beneficiaries are made.
The executor must make sure that all federal and state taxes are paid. This includes estate and income taxes.
All of the paperwork from selling probate property and settling debts will need to be presented to the court. You must also submit the asset inventory, appraisals, and probate sale contracts as part of this final accounting.
You must file a petition for a final hearing to distribute funds and close the estate. Tangible property can be distributed during the probate process. But, cash and other financial assets, such as probate sale proceeds, must be distributed after the final hearing.
Closing the Estate
If the court is satisfied with your petition and other paperwork, it will authorize the estate to be closed. At that point, you can pay final expenses, including court costs, from estate funds and distribute the remainder to beneficiaries. Your duties and responsibilities as executor are now completed.