California Probate Attorney
When a person dies, his/her real and personal property must be transferred to beneficiaries or heirs. The legal process for transferring the decedent’s property is probate. Probate ensures that all of the decedent’s property is marshalled, that creditors and taxes are paid, and that the remaining assets are distributed according to the decedent’s wishes.
At San Diego Esquire, we provide affordable probate solutions to California residents. Unlike most attorney, we offer flat fee probate services. We will prepare the legal documents you need to start and complete the probate process.
We provide affordable probate legal document preparation services to California residents for as low as $695. Sign up on our website today to begin the process.
California Probate Process Overview
Within 30 days of death, a representative for the estate must file the decedent’s will with the court in the county where he/she last resided. The representative, or administrator, is usually named in the will. If the will did not name a representative, the court will appoint one. If there is not will, a representative for the estate will need to file a petition to the court to appoint and administrator. The administrator will need to determine if the estate needs to go through probate. An estate valued less than $150,000 can go through a summary probate procedure where heirs can claim assets with a sworn statement. If the estate needs to go through probate, the administrator must file a petition for probate. If the decedent owned property in another state, the administrator will need to file a separate probate petition in that state as well.
After the petition is filed, the court will set a hearing, usually 4-6 weeks after the filing. The administrator will need to notify anyone named in the will, any other potential heirs, and all creditors about the hearing a minimum of 15 days before the hearing. The administrator will need to publish a notice of the hearing in a local newspaper at least three times before the hearing date. The judge must grant an Order for Probate to start the probate case timeline.
Inventory & Appraisal of the Decedent’s Estate
Once Letters are issued, the appointed estate administrator must take inventory of all of the assets owned by the decedent and have them appraised, and submit a list of a assets and their appraised value to the court. Assets include stocks, bonds, bank accounts, real estate, and personal property such as cars, boats, and art. Certain assets are not included in the estate and do not need to go through probate. These assets include assets in a living trust, life insurance payments, retirement funds with a named beneficiary, and assets held in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship. The administrator is responsible for maintaining assets in the estate, such as paying insurance on a home and safeguarding valuables. The administrator is also responsible for transferring title of these assets.
Probate Creditor Claims
While the estate is open, creditors can make claims against the estate. The court requires that the estate remain open for at least 4-6 months after the initial hearing to allow creditors to make claims on the estate. The administrator must determine which claims are valid and pay those claims. Debts include unpaid bills as well as funeral expenses. The administrator also is responsible for paying estate taxes and must file a final income tax return for the decadent. The administrator may need to sell property or assets to settle claims against the estate. If there is not enough money in the estate after debts and taxes have been paid, then the estate administrator will not be held personally liable for the balance of the debt.
Probate Final Discharge
Once the estate taxes have been paid and debts have been settled, the administrator can petition the court to close the estate. The petition includes all of the actions the administrator has taken on behalf of the estate. The court will set a date for a final hearing, approximately 4-6 weeks after the administrator files the final petition. The administrator will need to notify all interested parties (i.e. people named in the will and potential heirs) of the hearing. At the hearing the judge will sign a final dissolution of the estate. Attorney fees, court costs, and administrators will need to be paid- usually these fees are a percentage of the total estate, typically between 3-10%. Once the judge signs the order, the administrator can distribute the remaining assets according to the terms of the will. After all of the assets have been distributed, the administrator will need to file a Declaration of Final Discharge.
The probate process in California is long. While it is possible to expedite the probate process, the most probate proceedings take 12-18 months before the estate is closed.