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How Does Probate Work in California?

When a person dies, some or all of their property is disposed of through a legal process known as probate. If the deceased left a valid last will and testament, that document appoints a person to oversee the probate estate—a personal representative—and names one or more beneficiaries to receive any property. In some cases there may be little or no property in the probate estate, particularly if the deceased created a separate revocable living trust, an entity that is not subject to probate.

The Basics of Opening and Administering a Probate Estate

In California, the person who has custody of a deceased individual’s will must either send the document to the named personal representative or bring it to the probate court clerk’s office in the county where the deceased lived at the time of his or her death. An interested party, such as the personal representative or one of the beneficiaries, must then file a petition for probate with the court. If the deceased failed to leave a will for some reason, a petition should still be filed, and the court will name an administrator to manage any probate estate.

Once a petition is filed the probate court will schedule a hearing date and direct the personal representative or petitioner to give notice of the estate to any “interested party.” This includes anyone named in the will as a beneficiary, a family member who has the right to inherit in the absence of a valid will, and even a creditor who may have a valid claim against the estate. This notice must also be published in a local newspaper of “general circulation.”

After the court names a personal representative or administrator, this person must then gather the probate assets belonging to the estate. These assets must be appraised to determine their value as of the date of the decedent’s death. California has specially qualified individuals known as probate referees who are authorized to perform such appraisals.

The personal representative is also responsible for paying any administration expenses from the assets of the estate. This includes items like court costs, valid debts owed by the deceased, and maintenance of any property until it is either sold or distributed to the beneficiaries. The personal representative must keep track of all transactions involving estate property and prepare a final accounting and report for the probate court.

Get Advice From a San Diego Estate Planning Attorney

It is a good idea for the personal representative of an estate to work with an experienced California probate administration attorney, especially if they do not have prior experience working with estates. In many cases the same attorney who assisted the decedent with preparing his or her will can also assist the personal representative with the estate. And if you are thinking about making a will—or revising an existing will—you should speak with a California estate planning lawyer to address any further questions you may have about the probate process. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady if you would like to speak with an attorney today.

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