Probate in California

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“People want to avoid going through the process of probate. Going through an estate probate procedure in California could be better. It’s a long, slow-going, lengthy, and governed process, and the rules may differ from county to county. It is, however, essential if your loved one passed away without an estate plan or the will.”

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Probate in California

We have assisted thousands of individuals through the probate in California. We’ve helped them complete the probate process successfully. They’ve received their inheritance and moved into the next chapter of their lives.

After reading this article, you’ll know if you must undergo an investigation, what the procedure of Probate in California is, and what risks you are aware of.


Probate in California: An Overview

When a deceased person leaves a will, probate is the process that allows it to take effect by the court. As part of this process, the deceased’s assets are located and valued, their final bills and taxes owed, and the rest of their estate goes to their rightful beneficiaries.

In California, probate has nuances due to the state’s unique legal structure, including the probate code, which governs estates and the procedures for conducting probate. Various steps are involved in this process, such as filing petitions, notifying heirs and creditors, and managing estate assets, which can take months or even years to complete.

California residents should gain a comprehensive understanding of probate for several reasons. As a first step, it allows people to plan their estate effectively, allowing them to decide what to do with their assets after passing.

It is also possible to minimize the estate’s exposure to probate by understanding it, potentially saving the deceased’s loved ones time, money, and stress during the probate process. Probate knowledge can also clarify responsibilities and procedures for those who inherit an estate or are responsible for executing one.


How Does the Probate Process Work?

The specific steps of probate procedures can differ by state laws. However, the process typically includes the following:

  • Probate commencement. The executor submits a death certificate and the necessary paperwork to start probate to the court.
  • Will file. If the decedent made a will, they file it with the court.
  • Does validation. The court examines the will to determine whether it is legal.
  • Appointment of executor. The court appoints an executor or estate administrator to supervise the probate process. If the decedent wrote an estate plan and appointed someone as executor, the court will typically select the chosen person if they can act in that role.
  • Identification of assets. The executor identifies the assets of the deceased.
  • Valuation of assets. If needed, a valuation establishes the total value of an estate. This value then decides the estate tax.
  • Notification of creditors. We notify creditors who might have an interest in the estate.
  • Notification of Beneficiaries. We inform beneficiaries (those who might inherit).
  • The payment of debt. The executor pays the debts owed by the decedent from the estate assets. The laws governing probate dictate this.
  • Distribution of assets. According to the will of the deceased, we give the remaining assets to beneficiaries. His will lays out the distribution.

If there’s no will, the steps are the same. However, the court chooses an individual representative to fulfill the executor’s duties. The distribution of assets is also by the laws of intestacy instead of according to the decedent’s wishes in the will. Intestacy laws distribute your assets among family members. This includes siblings and parents.


A Californian’s Guide to Probate: Initial Steps

The probate process in California involves several critical steps. Each step ensures the decedent’s estate follows legal standards and the decedent’s wishes. Probate begins with the initiation process and ends with the final asset distribution, outlined in this section.

A probate process begins with determining whether probate is necessary, which depends on the assets left behind by the deceased. If probate is needed, file a petition for probate with the California probate court in the county where the deceased lived. An executor or administrator and the dead are all listed in this petition and the estate.


Probate Petition Filing

As soon as you file the petition for probate, you can get the court to acknowledge the validity of your will. If one exists, the court will also appoint your executor or administrator. All interested parties, including heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors, are notified of the probate proceedings. They are also informed of the hearing date.


The appointment of an executor or administrator

When the court reviews the probate petition, it appoints either an executor (if a will exists) or an administrator (if none lives). In addition to collecting assets, paying debts, and eventually distributing the estate to the rightful beneficiaries, this individual manages the estate throughout the probate process.


Asset Inventory and Appraisal

As the executor or administrator inventories and appraises the deceased’s assets, it is crucial to determine their value. This ensures that we can account for all assets during the distribution process.


Debt and tax payments

The executors are responsible for filing final income tax returns and paying estate taxes before distributing assets to beneficiaries.


Beneficiary distribution of assets

Following payment of all debts and taxes, the executor can request that the court distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries by the will or, if no will exists, by California’s laws on intestacy.


Probate Law in California: Key Features

Several factors can affect the probate process in California. This includes streamlined procedures for small estates and specific timeframes.


Probate Law in California: Key Features


Small Estate Procedures Simplified

Under California law, estates valued less than $166,250 are eligible for simplified probate procedures. They can bypass the formal probate process, making asset distribution more efficient and less expensive.


California’s Probate Timeline

Depending on the complexity of the estate and any legal challenges, the probate process in California can take nine to eighteen months to complete.


The Probate Court’s role

In California, the probate court oversees the entire probate process, from the initial petition to the distribution of assets. In addition to providing a legal framework to resolve any disputes that may arise, the court ensures that the process proceeds fairly and according to the law.

It can be helpful for individuals to gain a better understanding of the steps and features of the California probate process when planning their estate or navigating the process as executors and beneficiaries.


Probate Challenges and Issues

Understanding these common hurdles can help navigate or even avoid the probate process. While the probate process is structured, you can still encounter numerous challenges.


The process of contesting a will

A contest of a will is one of the biggest challenges during probate. If family members or potential beneficiaries believe the will does not reflect the decedent’s intentions, such as undue influence, lack of capacity, or procedural errors in its execution, disputes may arise. During probate, contesting a will can prolong the process and cost substantial money.


Dealing with debts and taxes

An essential aspect of probate is managing the deceased’s debts and taxes, which is often challenging. Before distributing assets to beneficiaries, executors must identify and settle all outstanding debts, including personal loans, credit card debt, and mortgages. Executors risk legal complications and financial liabilities if they fail to meet these obligations.


How Long Does Probate Take In California?

What is the California probate timeline? The probate timeline California takes an average of nine months to 1.5 years. This process can last longer if your estate is more significant or complicated or your county’s court faces a large caseload.

Whether or not you have a valid will can also affect how lengthy probate takes in California.

Dying without a will adds steps to the process: The local court must assign an estate administrator to oversee the estate and locate potential heirs. Having a will can help streamline the California probate process for your loved ones.


How do I avoid probate in California?

The California probate procedure is crucial to keep your assets out of probate. Consider the following points when drafting an estate plan.


Set up living trusts.

You don’t need to subject trusted assets to probate. Your assets in trust can be directly handed to your beneficiaries. This is more likely, as per the trust documents. Learn more about why living trusts are particularly beneficial for those living on the coast of California.


Jointly-owned property.

If you jointly own a home or other probate property California with another person and both are in the deed, the other owner will take the sole title to the property when you die without probate.


Name beneficiaries for your non-probate assets.

Certain investments (like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and annuities) permit you to designate an individual beneficiary to receive the asset if you die. These assets can bypass probate and transfer to that beneficiary upon your death.


Create a new TOD or POD account.

“Payable upon death” (POD) accounts and “transfer upon death” (TOD) accounts are accounts with a brokerage or bank. If you die, you can name a person to receive the funds from the account. Like other assets that aren’t protected from probate, the accounts automatically transfer to your beneficiary.

Only some real estate can avoid probate or a trust. However, having a will trust in place can ease the process for your family and friends after you die. A conversation with an estate lawyer about your situation and estate planning goals may aid.


How Much Does Probate Cost In California?

State law determines probate costs in California. They can vary based on the estate size and whether you use professional services, like hiring an attorney or accountant.

Attorney fees are typically flat based on the estate’s total value. An estate attorney typically receives between 0.5% and 4% for estates under $25 million. The county court determines the rate for estates over $25 million.

Other California probate fees may include:

  • Court costs (like filing fees or notification fees)
  • Accounting services
  • Probate bond fees
  • Estate taxes (for estates valued over the federal estate tax exemption of $12.92 million. California doesn’t have a state-specific estate or inheritance tax.)
  • Miscellaneous expenses (like notary fees or postage costs)

Compensation for the executor or personal representative is another standard California probate cost. Like attorney fees, compensation for a personal representative is outlined in the California Probate Code. It serves as the basis for the total value of the estate being managed.




In California, what is probate?

It is a legal process after someone dies in California. An inventory of a deceased person’s property, appraisal, and payment of debts and taxes are all part of the probate process. Distributing the remaining property is also part of the process.


Does California require probate for all estates?

The probate process in California is optional for all estates. Estates valued at $166,250 or less may qualify for a simplified procedure. Living trusts, joint ownership, or designated beneficiary investments like life insurance do not go through probate; they transfer outside of it.


How long does the California probate process take/ How long is probate in California?

On average, a California real estate probate process takes nine to 18 months to pass. However, it can take longer due to complex estates, beneficiary disputes, or litigation.


How much does California probate cost?

In addition to court fees, appraisals, publication fees, and legal and executor costs, probate costs can include court fees. If an estate is over $100,000, attorneys’ and executors’ fees start at 4% and decrease incrementally.


Is it possible in California to avoid probate?

California offers several options for avoiding probate, including establishing a living trust, designing beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts, owning property jointly, and using a Payable-on-Death or Transfer-on-Death designation for certain assets.


Are there any consequences if someone dies in California without a will?

California’s intestacy laws govern estate distribution if a person dies without a will. In general, the estate will go to a close family. First, to the spouse and children. Then, it is to more distant relatives if no immediate family members are present.


In California, who handles probate?

Probate usually takes place by the executor named in the will. However, the court may appoint an administrator if the executor cannot perform the task.


When is it appropriate to use a small estate affidavit in California?

In the case of an estate valued at $166,250 or less, a small estate affidavit can enable rightful heirs to procure assets without the need for formal probate.


Bottom Line

Probate can be intimidating. It’s not an intimidating process. A clear will that names an executor will ensure the correct transfer of your assets to your heirs if you pass away. Probate isn’t always mandatory, however.

Therefore, it’s crucial to consult an attorney to understand the impact of state laws on probate in your area. A financial advisor assisting with estate planning may help protect your assets from taxation and probate.

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