Probate is the process of transferring title to assets upon the death of an individual who dies with a will or without a will or trust. The person who has to begin the probate and follow through is the person named in your will as executor or someone the court appoints if you died without a will, called your administrator.
Many states have streamlined the probate processes however California probate has not and it can be confusing for the layman. Probate is initiated by filing a petition in the Probate Court to have yourself appointed to manage the estate. In San Diego County, the petition will either be filed in the downtown probate court or in north county. Letters Testamentary are issued if you were named as the Executor of the will or Letters of Administration if you are asking to be appointed administrator of an estate where there was no will. Once the letters have been issued, the personal representative (executor or administrator) can begin to inventory the assets in the estate, pay creditors, have the assets appraised, and ultimately transferred to a beneficiary or liquidated for distribution. The major difference between an estate with a will and an intestate estate (one without a will or a trust) is that where there is a will, the estate will be distributed in accordance with the provisions of the will. If there is no will, the estate will be distributed to the heirs at law of the decedent.
Depending on the decedent and the provisions of the will, there can be challenging issues that deveop such as a family allowance, probate homestead, and handling objections from family members. Look for a later post on these issues.
Give us a call if you are considering handling a probate on your own. We can explain the process and help you decide if doing it on your own makes sense. Sometimes the aftermath of the death of a loved one is stressful enought without having to worry about the probate paperwork. You may call us or email us with your probate questions.